The Importance of Senior Gift

The legacy we leave behind starts with a strong Harvard College Fund

A Senior Gift donation is a small amount of money, sometimes as little as $20, given at a dining hall or at a graduation event. Though the value of the gift may seem puny compared to Harvard’s $25.9 billion endowment, $20 goes a long way towards ensuring that bigger gifts will come in the future. The habit of giving encouraged by the Senior Gift ensures that the Harvard College Fund (HCF)—and specifically, the financial aid pool of the HCF—remains healthy for the years to come. Senior Gift contributions directly and indirectly benefit those College students on financial aid. The leadership of Senior Gift recently extended the deadline for applying to executive committee positions. We encourage all seniors to apply for what is certainly a worthy cause.

Last year, the situation on campus had many convinced that Senior Gift was just another avenue to express indignation with the University. Former Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 and former Black Men’s Forum President Brandon M. Terry ’05 started “Senior Gift Plus,” which promised to withhold seniors’ donations until the University divested from PetroChina, a company intimately involved with the Sudanese government and by extension with the genocide in Darfur. Still more seniors were dissuaded from donating by University President Lawrence H. Summers’ remarks about the “intrinsic aptitude” of women in science. Senior Gift was effectively co-opted to serve one of a number of political causes completely unrelated to the spirit of the Gift itself, even though there were many other avenues by which these divergent political beliefs could have been expressed. One part of the outcome of all this was a Senior Gift with the lowest dollar total since 1998. This must not happen again for the Class of 2006.

Seniors who give to Senior Gift are not making short-term statements of their political values. Nor are they endorsing the ephemeral political situation at the University or around the globe. Senior Gift is about the belief that a Harvard education should be available to everyone. It is bigger than any individual or cause. Students who refrain from giving to Senior Gift are not punishing the leadership of the University; they are only punishing those most in need. So, in an attempt to frame the debate before another graduating class is led astray, we want to express our support for Senior Gift as it kicks off another year.

As members of the Class of 2006 look to their prospects in the future, after Harvard, they must also look to the prospects of future classes. In this way, they can reaffirm that Harvard as an institution stands above passing political phenomena.