Involvement: The real purpose of the senior class gift

Last week, JP Nogues ’02 wrote a column (“A senior gift that’s just not worth giving,” 3/29) questioning the merits of the senior class gift. Some people may find something wrong with any act of charity, but in this case we thank Nogues for raising these issues because it is apparent from his comments that they are not discussed often enough on campus.

The senior class gift is an annual voluntary cash contribution to the Yale Alumni Fund in which students designate where their individual gifts will go.

Nogues expresses a preference for an actual “physical something” rather than a monetary gift. But, the idea of giving a physical object raises many problems. What would be appropriate? To what tastes is the physical gift tailored? Who decides?

There would be no end to such a process or the criticisms it would engender. As a monetary gift, the senior class gift allows givers to designate where their money should be spent. While we collectively give Yale a class gift, each student simultaneously gives Yale an individual gift as well. And, the class gift is certain to benefit the intended recipient, while a physical gift may end up benefiting no one.

Nogues argues that the class’s cash gift will be “demeaned” because it will be small. This is no different from saying, “I don’t recycle because it won’t make a difference.” Does this mean no gift should be given unless it totals, say, $1 million? Each gift — no matter how small — counts. It is easy to point to Yale’s large endowment as a reason not to give, but the endowment is in its current state because of alumni gifts both large and small. $12,000 — or whatever our final gift will be — may seem like a paltry sum, but it is not an insignificant amount. A gift of this size constitutes a major portion of a student’s financial aid package and helps sustain need-blind admissions.

Nogues counters by saying he “almost got tricked into giving money to financial aid, but then a Silver Scholar filled me in on the dirty little secret: financial aid is already budgeted.” This is not true. All of the options for directing a gift are core activities of the University that are not fully funded by the endowment or other income streams. They are directly impacted by the unrestricted funds given by alumni, parents and friends each year.

This act of giving is to say thank you, to improve the school and to ensure that someone else in the future can have a great experience. The opportunities and experiences we have had here have been afforded through the generosity of Yale alumni. Some conspicuous examples are past contributions to Sterling Memorial Library or the Lanman Center; less conspicuous but no less important are the annual gifts of many alumni who give so that we can enjoy need-blind admissions or newly renovated buildings.

Finally, Nogues correctly says our emphasis is on getting as many people as possible to give to Yale. He is also correct that we have set a minimum amount that people can give for their gift to count in the total participation number. We understand that people do not have much disposable income at this stage in their lives. Therefore, the minimum is $5 (not $10 as Nogues incorrectly said). The minimum exists so people do exactly what Nogues wants — give thoughtful gifts. In past years when there has not been a gift minimum, people were too obsessed with winning the competition of which college could have the most students participate. Students would do such things as take a 10-dollar bill, attach 10 people’s names to it, and claim that all 10 people had donated money. A minimum is intended to prevent such actions, but if students only have a dollar to give, Yale will not scoff at it.

We hope that seniors will give to the senior class gift. It is a charitable and unselfish act, saying both thank you to Yale and to those who have paved the way for us. And it is our first collective act as the Class of 2002, paving the way for all the thoughtful gifts that will follow to help the many thousands of students who will follow us. Let’s show the spirit, the unity and the generosity of the Class of 2002.



Michael Horn is a senior in Pierson College and a former managing editor of the Yale Daily News. Katie Troutman is a senior in Calhoun College. They are the Senior Class Gift co-chairmen.

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