News icon Meeting a Scholar at One Gala Inspires Giving at the Next

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The Mitchell Institute’s 2022 Fall Gala drew a record number of sponsors and guests who helped push the annual event’s fundraising total to an event-record $297,000 for Maine’s premier scholarship organization.

A photo of Parke Burmeister
Among this year’s attendees was Parke Burmeister, a partner at and co-founder of Casco Bay Law, a general practice firm on Union Street in Portland. It wasn’t his first Mitchell Institute Gala. But was the first time he chose to spend $3,000 to sponsor a table in support of Mitchell Scholars and the Institute’s broad range of leadership and career-development programming.

Burmeister, who grew up “solidly upper-middle class” and earned his undergraduate degree in Government at a small New England private college, traces his decision to support the Mitchell Institute to a prior Gala he attended as a guest.

He happened to be seated next to a first-generation-to-college Mitchell Scholar, who at the time was pursuing a degree at his alma mater.

“Knowing how much of a shock college was for me, I said to her, ‘That must have been quite a transition,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘Yes, it was.’”

For Burmeister, the encounter sparked some vivid memories.

“At college, for the first time, I remember encountering kids who went to residential prep schools and grew up in urban areas of tremendous wealth. I didn’t even know those worlds existed, despite being a relatively privileged public-school kid from an affluent Boston suburb,” he said. “These kids arrived at college knowing how to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ in a way that I just didn’t.”

As unsettling as the transition to college was for him, “I cannot imagine how difficult it would be for kids from rural Maine,” he said.

As for his Mitchell Scholar tablemate, “It was clear to me that she came to Gala because the Institute was important to her. I could tell that it meant more than the money she was receiving for tuition.”

Burmeister said he left that Gala with a better understanding of the Mitchell Institute’s impact.

“The night put a face to the Institute’s story for me,” he said. “I came to understand that the scholarship money is significant, but just as important, the Institute gives Scholars a support network to help them thrive and get them launched in their careers and in life.”

And there’s data to prove it. The Institute’s recent Alumni survey revealed that 49% of recent Mitchell Scholar graduates enter careers with earnings that are higher than their entire family household income at the time they applied for the Scholarship.

The same values behind Burmeister’s support of the Institute are at work in his practice, where he helps clients with estate planning and probate as well as starting small businesses, navigating MaineCare, and caring for aging loved ones.

“My experience in college shaped what kind of law practice I wanted to build,” he said. “I think of it as ‘Main Street’ law… my clients are everyday people from all across Maine.”

Going into this year’s Gala, Burmeister said he looked forward to talking with another Scholar and reconnecting with the organization he has “a lot of respect for.”

“I’m excited to show off the Institute to my guests who aren’t as familiar with it,” he said. “It’s a good program to support.”