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Nurture and Give

At Swarthmore, students are motivated to change the world

I believe in education.

Not an unusual statement for a Swarthmore alum, even one who spent his career in business. I’ve spent a great deal of my time focused on education in the 11 years since I retired at 58. It’s clear to me that more than 50 years after entering Swarthmore, the experience shaped my values and instilled a commitment to education.   

I was fortunate to lay the groundwork to realize this commitment before retirement, first by joining Swarthmore’s Board of Managers 17 years ago, and then 16 years ago by becoming involved in an educational philanthropy program in central Vietnam. In more recent years, I’ve joined the boards of two other liberal arts colleges: Occidental, which my daughter, Rebecca, attended, and, in the opposite direction, the American University of Paris, a small college in the 7th Arrondissement.

The Vietnam program and Swarthmore couldn’t be more different. In Vietnam, my business partner Eric (who originated the program) and I focus on the poorest 10% of the population. 

We talk in the U.S. of the importance of first-generation college students. In Vietnam, virtually none of the parents of our 2,000 high schoolers made it beyond the ninth grade, and many are illiterate subsistence farmers and day laborers. For most of our 350 college students, being in university is something of a foreign concept. Eric and I are fortunate to be on the receiving end of many hugs and expressions of gratitude for somewhat serendipitously ending up working on education in Vietnam.

Swarthmore students, by contrast, are remarkably accomplished before entering. Frankly, they are likely to continue to be high achievers even without the Swarthmore experience. But — and this is the essence of why I have devoted much time and financial resources to the College over the past 17 years — the Swarthmore experience will improve their skills and shape their values. They will be better able and more motivated to make a positive difference in the world after graduation.

The world of highly selective American colleges and universities is an exceedingly competitive one. A wise person once observed that virtually none of each year’s crop of 17-year-olds (and their parents) are committed to apply to Swarthmore or any other college. If we want to attract and nurture the very best students, we have to continue to invest in financial aid, faculty, and facilities. Excellence is expensive.

But contributing to that excellence is extremely gratifying. One of the most satisfying rewards of chairing our Changing Lives, Changing the World campaign is seeing many fellow alums experience the joy of giving.   Whether it’s been a gift to bolster financial aid, to help build Singer Hall, or to support faculty teaching and research, our funds essentially support exceptional students who will enhance Swarthmore’s legacy as a force to make the world a better place.

I think all alumni have a responsibility to help Swarthmore build on its 150+ years of success, just as we benefited from the generosity of those who came before us.