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Currents: seniors give generously

The Perfect Gift: Senior Pledges Reflect Class of 2008's Unity, Generosity

They will take a lifetime's worth of memories with them when they graduate in May, but the Class of 2008 will leave something behind, too. The senior gift campaign is off to a tremendous start with nearly 50 percent participation and plenty of time left before the fiscal year's end on June 30 to collect pledges, and the impact of the seniors' monetary donations will be felt across campus and by future students.

The tradition of a senior class gift is a long-standing one at most colleges, and past classes have presented Colby-Sawyer with gifts such as the Adirondack chairs scattered across the Quad and even increased handicapped accessibility. The Class of 2008 is updating that tradition while honoring its intent of leaving a mark on Colby-Sawyer - instead of selecting a single gift, this year's seniors have the same giving opportunities they will have as alumni. That means the Class of 2008 has the option of pledging funds directly to scholarships, student life, teaching and learning, technology, campus maintenance and beautification, or for the college's unrestricted use. This allows each senior the freedom to support an area of life at Colby-Sawyer that most resonates with them, and the decision is going over extraordinarily well: To date, 101 of 221 possible graduates have pledged a total of $910.

“The gifts made to the college in the past have all been great ideas, but the cost of most things has become far and above what a class could raise on its own,” says Christopher Reed, co-director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving. “And not everyone buys into one specific gift idea. A new sign for the athletic fields might be a great thought, but not everyone will agree, and they won't financially support that choice.”

Tarren Bailey '06, assistant director of alumni relations and annual giving, researched how other institutions handle senior class gifts. In the interest of offering the most flexibility and getting the class involved in the project, she presented the idea of open giving to the class officers.

Class treasurer Keri Croatti, a Psychology major from Southborough, Mass., knew early on how important the class gift is to the college, as she has worked in the office of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving throughout her time at Colby-Sawyer. She says the officers liked Bailey's idea and decided to collect funds instead of picking a specific item to present to the college because they wanted to give to Colby-Sawyer in multiple ways.

“We liked the idea of students being able to choose where their pledge would go because that way they could be assured it would go toward something they were passionate about,” says Croatti, “and we figured more of our classmates would give if they had choices.”

After a promising class meeting in the fall, where the officers were impressed by their classmates' enthusiasm for the pledge drive, the four women leading the senior class have been in the dining halls many nights to solicit support.

Seniors' category of choice thus far has been to support Student Life on campus; pledges in this area go toward funding activities, teams and events. One student who chose this category is Jen McAfee, who decided on Student Life because she wanted to "help improve sponsored activities on campus.”

Unrestricted gifts are exactly that, and rank second in selection by seniors, though the majority of gifts to the Annual Fund are unrestricted.

Scholarships is another popular choice for pledges, and one that resonates with students, as 86 percent of them receive some college scholarship or grant. Many seniors choose this option in recognition of the fact that someone before them provided funds that aided their education, including Taryn Nicoletta, who says, “I'm giving to Scholarships so that other deserving students will have the opportunity to continue their education at Colby-Sawyer College.” Ashlee Willis echoes that sentiment, who says with gratitude, “Without scholarships I wouldn't have been to come here, so that's where I made my gift.”

“My classmates have been enthusiastic about the pledge drive and willing to give,” says class Vice President Caroline Barone, a Communication Studies major from Sherborn, Mass. “Colby-Sawyer is a great college with great potential, and it's given me a lot, which motivates me to give back. Those who decline to donate generally do so for financial reasons.”

Though no one can argue with a lack of funds as a reason for not pledging, the class officers are working hard to get the message out that the size of the pledge is not necessarily the most important thing; it's the participation that matters most.

“If there's one thing we want seniors to know, it's that they don't have to give a big chunk of money – five dollars from all of them adds up,” agrees Bailey. Some seniors have made gifts in honor of a parent, professor, coach or their late classmate, Corey Worsham.

To solidify class unity, the officers decided to reward each donor with a gift of their own, a Senior '08 T-shirt. As well as serving as heartfelt thank yous for donations, the shirts, when worn around campus, are a reminder to classmates that they still have time to donate.

“Students kept seeing their class members at the table making pledges so they would come over to see what was going on, and then they would make pledges as well,” says Croatti. “We've even had students from other classes ask if they could make a pledge because they wanted a T-shirt!”

Expect to see officers Allison Blood, Caroline Barone, Keri Croatti and Stephanie Kimball continuing their pledge drive efforts in the dining hall and outside when spring arrives.

“These class officers have done a tremendous job with the fund drive,” says Reed. “They are constantly in touch with us; they certainly don't sit around and wait to be told what to do.”

Discussion of how and when to present the check to the college is underway, but one thing is for certain: the contribution is an important one that will make an impact on the institution and the classes that come after it. According to Reed, $500 gifts are common aid amount; can pay for a rugby team's season of travel, two faculty field trips, or upgrade two computers. A $500 gift can also add volumes to the library, purchase a year's art supplies for Windy Hill; print tickets for the dance show, bring a comedian or a feature film to campus, or subsidize an Open Mic night at the Lethbridge Lodge.

“What they're doing is keeping the Colby-Sawyer they know alive and continuing for those who come after them,” says Reed. “This matters; this student and alumni participation matters a great deal.”

-Kate Dunlop Seamans