May 23, 2010
by Rachel Gilmer '10 and Brian Farkas '10
We are honored to stand before you, four years after first arriving at Vassar, to speak about the legacy we will leave here through the time-honored tradition of the Senior Class Gift. Philanthropy has always been an integral part of the College as generations of students have looked at their gift as an important means of both maintaining aspects of the College they love, and also pushing the institution in new and exciting directions.
For decades, Vassar seniors have left their mark on our community in a variety of creative ways, helping to ensure the College’s commitment to excellence for future generations of students. The generosity of past Vassar seniors manifests itself daily, influencing all aspects of College life. I mean, can you really imagine Vassar without Friday nights spent sweating in the Mug. And how different would the library be without late night lattes from Matthew’s Bean? I know probably wouldn’t have finished my finals this semester without those shots of espresso.
When it came time to determine our gift, we quickly heard a common voice among our classmates: our gift should have a sense of vision, should create a lasting legacy for the campus and should challenge the Vassar community to think critically about its role in the global community. With these goals in mind, we chose to establish an endowed scholarship fund, holding Vassar responsible in its commitment to equality through educational access and pushing our College towards a global leadership role in justice and egalitarianism.
The 2010 senior class gift demonstrates our belief in the transformative power of a Vassar education and a commitment to not allowing socioeconomic status or neighborhood zip code to determine one’s ability to attend the College. A Vassar education provides students with access to an innovative faculty, dynamic students, outstanding resources and the most up-to-date facilities and it is our collective responsibility to open Vassar’s opportunities to more students.
A talented high school student from a working class family is far less likely to attend college than a similarly talented, wealthier student. We must continue the push the College to close this disparity. We are proud that Vassar has reinstated need-blind admissions, no longer considering an applicant's financial situation when deciding admission. We are also excited about our newer programs, including the Poughkeepsie High School Scholarship, which replaces loans with grants for any Poughkeepsie High student admitted to the College.
When I was applying to college, my parents and I were sure that our finances would limit my opportunities when choosing a school. We were positive that I would have to stay close to home. I wish I could relive the moment when I received my admittance letter from Vassar with a financial aid package that would make attending the College a reality. I have grown so much over the past four years, fallen in love with things I would never have imagined, and I have my scholarship to thank for this. Our gift will continue to open access to the incredible opportunities available here.
These policies however, certainly come at a financial cost. This year alone, the College will spend some $44 million on financial aid. While other schools rely heavily on tuition revenue, Vassar must instead rely on the generosity of its graduates. As the incoming members of this alumni family, we are determined to be among the most dedicated classes Vassar has ever known. In honor of all that the College has given us, it is time to show our appreciation by allowing future students to enjoy the same opportunities.
So how did we do? On average, senior class gifts at Vassar tend to raise somewhere between $5,000 and $8000. Generally, about 50 to 60 percent of the graduating class gives to the gift. This year, the Class of 2010 wanted to raise the bar.
In October, when we set our goal of raising $15,000 from 75% of the class, we received many bewildered looks. Many thought that we would fail. They warned us that we would be swimming upstream, against the tide of the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Students, they told us, will be more reluctant than ever to support Vassar - even for a cause as important as educational access. Surely, they said, we would never reach $15,000.
But we didn't listen. We knew that if we could achieve our lofty goals, the Class of 2010 could make a louder statement than any senior gift in Vassar’s 150-year history - a statement about our values and priorities for the College we love. We wanted to blow every class before us out of the water.
But we didn’t raise $15,000. Nor did we raise $16,000. Or 17, or 18, or 19, or 20. We raised $22,690!
But wait! The history made by our class does not end there. In October, we also set a participation goal for three-quarters of our class to stand up in support of educational access and financial aid. But we didn't reach 75% participation. Nor did we reach 80%, or 85%, or even 90%. Ninety-two percent of our class supported the 2010 Endowed Scholarship Fund! This is the highest participation of any class since 1947 and the largest donation since the class of 1943. But that is not all as two alums have tripled this gift, dollar for dollar, so that the value of the fund will be $68,070.
Clearly, the Class of 2010 has a lot to be proud of. Not only did we beat all expectations for our Endowed Scholarship Fund; we are creating a new culture of giving. There has long been a myth out there in Vassar's alumni world that young graduates don’t value their education as much as older graduates, and don’t make annual gifts to Vassar to show their support.
But our overwhelming support to this Endowed Scholarship Fund shows that 2010 is in it for the long run. As a class, we recognize the incredible importance of financial aid, and understand our own responsibility to continue to support the college each and every year. Whether it's $5, $10, or $20, your gift will remind Vassar that its alumni remain committed to providing an education to every qualified student, regardless of his or her ability to pay.
We have so many people to thank for these successes. We couldn’t have done this without the love and support of our friends and families. Thank you also to Priscilla Weaver in the Development Office, for her tireless support.
Thank you to Chris Roellke, Dean of the College, for bringing his boundless spirit to our faculty-student basketball game. Chris’s enthusiasm was palpable, and he was even a gracious winner when the faculty won in a 66-65 nail-biter.
And on behalf of the senior class, we especially want to thank President Cappy Hill, who not only contributed to the gift herself, but has encouraged us from the beginning. Cappy is an economist whose research focuses on issues of educational access and affordability. She arrived at Vassar with all of us, in 2006, and immediately began to study and evaluate Vassar’s own financial aid practices. With her leadership, the College has returned to a policy of need-blind admissions, admitting applicants based purely on their merits and not on their ability to pay. The College has also eliminated loans in financial aid packages for students from families with incomes under $60,000. Cappy has kept financial aid in the forefront of our minds for the past four years, and our senior gift represents a wholehearted endorsement of these policies.
Vassar College, we, the Class of 2010 wholeheartedly give to you this gift - the largest ever bestowed by a graduating class. We give it with the understanding that Vassar will never forget its role as an engine of social mobility and social change. Vassar has the enormous power to change lives, and through those lives, to change our world.