Donations to the Senior Class Gift close tomorrow. The class of 2014 hit 75 percent participation, as of yesterday. Every year since we arrived at Yale, the senior class has broken 96 percent participation. In other words, we’re not doing too great.
As students, we’re not typically called on to donate. We’re just not in that phase of life. Instead, we’re usually supported by others. We go about our activities with backing from fellowships and grants and stipends and donations and the help of parents or relatives. For many of us, not yet in a position to give substantial sums, the question of organized charity is pushed off to some future time, perhaps when we’re grown up.
And then, every year, the Senior Class Gift rolls around and everybody starts talking about what it means to give back.
For me, it is simple. Every single one of us here has benefitted from Yale College, and donating to the Senior Class Gift is a gesture of gratitude. A thank you. A moment to stop and think about all the people making this place run who care about us and our education and opportunities. Students can designate where they want their donation to go, and many earmark it towards financial aid. Like writing a birthday card to a parent, the donation is more about the sentiment conveyed than the cumulative sum ultimately raised.
And yet, the gift is not without controversy. Does Yale really need our money? Unaccustomed to giving charity as a show of support, the small sums requested rouse suspicion. Even resistance. Why would Yale, with its $20.8 billion endowment, want my $20?
As critical thinkers, we are trained to look for problems. Innovative academic work or penetrating analysis often originates with the identification of an overlooked error, the discovery of a flaw. We take what seems good and ask what’s wrong. This mindset guides us as students, as well it should. Every day the News is filled with thoughts and suggestions and insights on problems with Yale and proposed solutions. We look at Yale and ask: How can this be better?
But that should not be our only mindset. Yes, there are problems at Yale, and for this reason alone, a number of seniors every year decide not to give. Some people take offense at the request, feeling that in one way or another Yale has failed them. Recognizing those failures and thinking about how they can be avoided in the future is important work, and should never stop. But I challenge any senior to argue that Yale has not done him or her at least $5 worth of good.
Being badgered for money is not fun. No one enjoys badgering friends for money either. But there is a time to argue and a time to show appreciation. The two can be separated. The Senior Class Gift is an opportunity to thank Yale, and remind ourselves — when it is cold and dreary outside — how awesome it is to be here. Because ultimately, the cultivation of gratitude doesn’t just make us a few dollars poorer, it allows us to recognize how much we have for which to be thankful. Even if you’re not a senior, why not spend a few minutes right now and think of one thing at Yale for which you are grateful? It’s OK to acknowledge the good even as we identify challenges — the problems aren’t going anywhere, and neither, I hope, are the people fixing them.
The question was once asked of Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher, about a man with a 1,000 coins: Is it better to donate all 1,000 coins at once, thus doing the most good for one person, or to donate one coin 1,000 times? Maimonides answered that one should donate a single coin 1,000 times, and in that way he will train his hand to give. We have one day left, 2014. Let’s train our hands.
Shira Telushkin is a senior in Pierson College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .