The First Word

President L. Jay Lemons

By L. Jay Lemons, President 

As the Changing Lives, Building Futures campaign drew to a close this summer, I was reminded of a magazine article I once read written by Alex Haley. It was sometime after Haley had released his iconic novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. In the article, Haley expressed tremendous gratitude for his forebearers. I was in my college years at the time, but Haley’s sense of indebtedness to his ancestors was palpable, and it got me thinking about my own heritage. I decided I, too, should find some way to express my appreciation to my ascendants.

The tokens of appreciation I chose were simple and direct: hand-carved wooden letters—one for my parents and one for each set of my grandparents—engraved with the words, “Thank You.” Volumes were spoken in those two words especially for someone like me who has been truly blessed by a loving and supportive family. In the decades that have followed, Haley’s wisdom has become ever more meaningful for me. At the passing of my grandparents, these tokens were returned to me, and it is my joy again to pass them along to others.

So it was on June 30, when the Changing Lives, Building Futures campaign closed with a total of $75.1 million, that the first two words to come to mind were “thank you.” I extend that basic yet fundamentally important message to each and every one of the more than 10,000 alumni, parents and friends who supported the campaign. Whether you pledged $5 or $10 million, rest assured that your gift is making a difference in the lives of Susquehanna students.

The new “green” science building, which opened in March with the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences as its first occupants, provides students with more advanced laboratory and teaching space. It is preparing students for careers in the critical science professions of the 21st century while also contributing to the university’s commitment to sustainability. The departments of biology and chemistry moved in this summer, and we look forward to formally dedicating the building on Oct. 23 during Homecoming Reunion Weekend. As planned, our next capital project is a renovation of Fisher Hall. The building will continue to house the departments of psychology and physics, while making space for the departments of music education, math, sociology and English, and the centers for career services and academic achievement.

In addition to the new science facility, donors contributed new resources in support of endowment and program goals and financial aid for the students. By supporting endowment and program goals, donors help us ensure the long-term quality and vitality of Susquehanna’s teaching, research and community pursuits. In particular, campaign supporters have helped champion the new Central Curriculum and provide the means by which we continue to develop the innovative Global Opportunities (GO) cross-cultural program.

Scholarships play a vital role in bringing some of the nation’s best and brightest to Susquehanna. Last year, 624 first-year students joined the Susquehanna family. Of them, 42 percent were in the top one-fifth of their high school classes and 23 percent were in the top one-tenth. Fourteen were the valedictorians or salutatorians of their classes, and more than 70 enrolled in Susquehanna’s competitive Honors Program. This year, we’re blessed to welcome more than 640 equally talented first-year students to campus, many of whom would not be here without the generosity of those who support our financial aid programs.

Moreover, donor support stands as a testament to the admiration alumni have for their alma mater. Their support is a strong indicator of the confidence they place in the direction and future of the institution. This became acutely evident over the last six months of the campaign when alumni far exceeded the Board of Trustees’ Every1Counts Million Dollar Alumni Challenge. A total of 1,983 new alumni donors—on a target of 1,500—rose to the challenge and secured $1.1 million from the board by making gifts of any amount between Jan. 1 and June 30.

Donors contributed another $2 million for the campaign after they met and then exceeded the second phase of the board’s challenge, a $2 million matching challenge that ultimately netted $5 million in total contributions--$2 million pledged by the Board of Trustees and $3 million in matching gifts.

The first stage of the Million Dollar Alumni Challenge, resulting in the $1.1 million gift from the Board of Trustees, demonstrated the importance of small yet consistent giving. It’s easy to think that your $10 or $20 a year won’t make a difference, but it does, and the campaign is proof. We received more than 9,000 gifts of $25 or less during the campaign, but together they totaled nearly $200,000, which will be used to support a variety of initiatives over the next seven years. For instance, it could provide 84 percent of a student’s four-year tuition costs or the cost of a primary piece of science equipment. It can underwrite the average travel expenses for more 20 students a year to participate in service-learning trips or support the attendance of about 30 students a year at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. The opportunities are virtually endless when the power of collective giving comes to bear on an institution.

I cannot express my gratitude enough to all those who joined together to make small gifts count in big ways. Nor can I forget the tremendous generosity of those who committed leadership gifts to the campaign. These donors are the roots from which the rest of the Susquehanna community branched out and took the campaign over the top. And although I cannot send along 10,000 wooden carvings to the members of the Susquehanna family who contributed to the Changing Lives, Building Futures campaign, be assured my gratitude is etched in the university’s commitment to mold today’s students into the leaders and difference-makers of tomorrow. So . . . Thank You!

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