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2019 Class Gift Misses The Mark On Leaving Meaningful Legacy

The 2019 Class Gift executive committee announced Wednesday that this year’s seniors voted to give the Arboretum’s new Pollinators’ Garden an entry gate.

On the surface, this gesture feels like a total disappointment.

Throughout my time at Penn State, there had been a theme to the class gifts: We’re here to make the future of Penn State even better than the place we’ve come to love so much over the past four years.

During my freshman year, the Class of 2016 presented Penn State with a gift that came across as somewhat unconventional at the time.

Gifts prior to 2016 had largely been physical landmarks — think the “We Are” sculpture in 2013, the Willard Plaza in 2004, or the HUB Aquarium in 1999. There had been a few scholarships and endowments through the years, but nothing quite like the Class of 2016’s gift to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), which helped create a permanent, annual source of funding for mental health services on campus.

It truly spoke to the idea of creating a better Penn State for future students, and succeeding classes followed suit with support for the student food bank, Lion’s Pantry, as well as the Student Farm and textbook and educational resources fund.

We wrote in 2016 about the importance of the gift to CAPS, when author Drew Klingenberg hit the nail on the head:

“Tangibly, it might be something we will never see — our gift won’t be across from Rec Hall with a line hundreds deep on the day of a home football game — but the intangibility is the beauty behind this gift.”

I’m aware that CAPS is still far from perfect in its design to help students. But the funding from the class gift lays the groundwork to continually improve these services. Having benefited from from CAPS resources myself, I can, at least in part, thank those seniors for that.

The Class of 2019 had a similar opportunity to leave a lasting mark for future students with the two other class gift options.

There was the WorkLink scholarship, which would provide an endowment for those who are part of the new two-year certificate program that helps students with intellectual disabilities develop work and independent living skills while gaining the benefits of a college experience.

As noted in the class gift form, these students have been “neglected by higher education” and the social integration added by working alongside Penn State peers “would help increase employment and independent living outcomes.”

There was also the LGBTQA+ Student Resource Center emergency fund, which would create an endowment for students utilizing the center during an urgent situation who need the support to stay on track and complete their degrees.

The way the funding is accessed in other schools’ similar programs varies, but the purpose is the same: The funding is there for LGBTQ students who desperately need it. For example, if a student loses their college financial support because their coming out is not accepted by family, the emergency fund is available to help the student continue school.

Those who reap the benefits of either one of these gifts may never know it, but that’s not the point of why we have a class gift.

The purpose is to leave a legacy. In my mind, that’s not some physical marker on this campus that says we were here. It’s actually impacting the lives of future students.

That’s a true legacy, and it’s an idea I hope future classes reinvest in.

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About the Author

Steve Connelly

Unfortunately, former editor Steve Connelly has graduated. Where is he now? He might be doing something related to that PR degree he got in 2019. Maybe he finally opened that sports bar named after one of his photos, the Blurry Zamboni. Or he might just be eating chicken tenders and couch surfing. Anything’s possible. If you really want to know, follow him on Twitter @slc2o.

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