With fall semester halfway over, the Senior Class Gift Committee is hard at work soliciting pledges of support from fellow May 2009 graduates. It’s hard to think about that right now, what with $4 gas and gloomy headlines that make it sound as if life after Commencement will be like scenes from “The Grapes of Wrath.”
But there are plenty of good reasons to think about the senior gift. Of course, there is the chance to one-up those classes that graduated before you, and have the pledge rate engraved on the sidewalk by Tucker Hall. After all, it would be kind of nice to outdo those smug wannabe-cool folks from 2008 with their showy 60 percent contribution rate and $168,000.
Yet, there are far more important reasons for chipping in to the senior class gift. Back in my student days, ignoring fund appeals from the College of William and Mary was easy — we had an excuse (no, not the Civil War). In those days, well over half of the College’s operating costs came directly from Virginia state tax revenue. That share has fallen to under one-fifth. As one College official used to say, we have gone from being a state-funded university, to a state-supported university, to a state-assisted university, to a state-located university. And that aid is being whittled down even further this year given Richmond’s fiscal difficulties.
That means the College increasingly depends on other sources. As College President Taylor Reveley points out, whereas we used to be a publicly supported university that got some private assistance, “we are now privately supported, and publicly assisted.” More costs are now covered by tuition checks, but, as you may know firsthand, those have gotten pretty hefty already. Another share comes from private endowment, which has been rising (though after the last few weeks on Wall Street, the College may need to invest in something safer, like lottery tickets). A third component is annual giving, which includes each year’s senior class gift.
To be sure, unless you come from the family of Bill and Melinda Gates (if you do, please contact the department of government), your own pledge will be modest. After all, not every senior has already lined up a secure, lucrative career with a successful firm like Lehman Brothers. But certainly the target pledge of $109 encouraged by senior class officers is well within reach of almost everyone. After all, that is just a bit more than the last parking ticket you ripped up.
A pledge of any amount is a sign of support for the College. And even if you’re frustrated at times — by the faculty giving too few As, for example — you know you are getting a good education here. You want that to remain true into the future, for your own sake and for the sake of others. Moreover, you can direct the donation to your favorite department (if you have one), to Earl Gregg Swem Library, to student organizations, to athletics, to the Gateway Program — which helps students with limited economic means —or
to the Fund for William and Mary — which supports various academic programs in need. The Senior Class Gift Committee’s slogan is “Give to whomever, wherever and however you like.” So, check out the website at www.seniorclassgift.org. And read the e-mails they send, as well as the upcoming newsletters. And pledge. Once you have, be sure to come through by the deadline: Pledging without giving is like standing up a date, and no self-respecting College student would ever do that.
Contributing to the Senior Class Gift Fund will also be a first step toward that not-so-distant day when you will become alumni. When you are, by the way, be sure to register on the Alumni Association’s new website (www.wmalumni.com). Only after taking those steps — oh yes, and getting a diploma at graduation — will you be fully entitled to immediately begin grumbling (like all of us alumni do) that things here are just not what they were in your day.
Clay Clemens ’80 is a government professor and serves on the Alumni Association Board of Directors.