Dozens of alumni, students and faculty gathered at University President Peter Salovey’s home for a reception last Thursday evening celebrating the class of 1917’s centennial reunion gift to the alumni fund.
In attendance were a few descendants of the members of the class of 1917, including William Farnam ’66 — son of Henry Farnam, class of 1917 — William’s cousin James Farnam ’73 and Beatrice Bartlett GRD ’80, whose father and uncle were also members of that class. Several Yale college seniors who led this year’s Senior Class Gift campaign also attended the reception.
At the class of 1917’s 50th reunion, held on June 15, 1967, in Jonathan Edwards College, 101 members of the class of 1917 decided to invest around $1,400 as a donation to the class of 2017’s Senior Class Gift. Ten years later, when the class of 1917 met for their 60th reunion, they estimated that their gift would be worth $20,000 in 2017, which by today’s inflation rate is around $80,000.
“They were a little off,” Salovey joked. In the 50 years since its investment, the class of 1917’s gift has grown to $661,462.46.
Jocelyn Kane, the managing director of the Yale Alumni Fund, said the Fund asked Salovey to host the reception in order to honor the memory of the students of the class of 1917 and to celebrate the Yale students of today.
“The fund has always been invested separately, so it can grow and not be counted or spent in any kind of budget in the past 50 years,” Kane said. It was an ingenious way to give a gift of unrestricted cash to spend on today’s Yale College students, she added.
William Farnam described the gift as a result of the class of 1917’s initiative and Yale’s good fund management.
In his opening speech, Salovey noted that the class of 1917 graduated just before the U.S. entered World War I, so almost every member of that class served in the military, including 17 members who gave their lives.
They were a very close class as the war probably brought them together, Salovey said, adding that they felt it was important to give back to Yale in a visible way and hoped their story would inspire future senior classes.
Amid remarks by Salovey, William Farnam and Lexi Butler ’17, one of the Senior Class Gift campaign co-chairs, the descendants of the class of 1917 presented a ceremonial check to members of the Senior Class Gift campaign.
“Hopefully through the scholarships [the class of 1917’s gift] provides, we can allow for someone who might not have been able to come to Yale to have the experiences that we did,” said Jessica Schmerler ’17, one of the Senior Class Gift campaign organizers for Jonathan Edwards College.
Russel Cohen ’17, another Jonathan Edwards organizer, said thinking about the World War I connection made him take a step back and realize that he was part of “something really big and impactful.”
Philip Groenwegen ’17, a Berkeley College organizer, said the gift speaks to the timelessness of Yale.
“Considering the fact that you spend most of your life as a Yale student and then alumnus or alumna, this is a long-term commitment. For people born in 1895 and part of a class in 1917 to be connected to me is incredible,” Groenwegen said.
This year’s Senior Class Gift campaign, which ran from Feb. 1 through Feb. 22, raised $17,189.88 on a 65.6 percent participation rate — the lowest on record. But thanks to the class of 1917’s gift, this year’s Senior Class Gift will total an unprecedented $678,652.34.
“[Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway] said it best at the Senior Class Gift kickoff event when he told the seniors, ‘The class of 1917 could never have imagined this room, but they invested in you anyway.’ I think that’s really what it’s all about,” Kane said.