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Graduation: A Time to Give Back

Wednesday, April 27, 2016  
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By Christina Mimms, SAIS

‘Tis the season of giving, if you’re a high school senior, that is. With graduation approaching, seniors often receive gifts of jewelry, goodies for dorm life, or possibly checks from generous relatives. As part of their commencement exercises, many senior classes also present a gift back to their school – a product of their own fund-raising and hard work to give thanks to the place and the people who nurtured them through their teenage years, played a significant role in their college matriculation, and supported them on their academic journey thus far.

At Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA) in Nashville, TN, fund-raising for the senior class gift starts in students’ freshman year. With a goal to spend $5,000 to $10,000 on a class gift, students earn funds by working concession sales at school events, selling T-shirts, and hosting mixers. In their junior year they lead a school-wide poinsettia sale. Class officers manage their budget and fund-raisers with assistance from Dean of the High School Will Norton.

They spend a portion of their total funds on their prom with the remainder going toward the class gift. Past gifts include furniture for the seniors’ room, contributions to a school campaign, and a memorial bench for a teacher who passed away. The seniors hold a town hall style meeting to talk about ideas, and the head of school also offers suggestions, based on MBA’s current needs. The senior class officers meet with the head of school to make the final decision.

“They try to pick something meaningful to the class,” Norton said. “It’s a great blessing to the school and many things have been made possible by the class gift.”

Often the implementation of the senior gift takes place over the summer. This year’s seniors plan to build a grilling area on campus but the project will need to be synchronized with a current capital campaign that includes other construction work in progress.

At Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, NC, one of the most treasured gifts the school received came from the Class of 2010, which gave a Victory Bell to the school. The bell was primarily envisioned by an all-state student-athlete, Susan Heyman, who won the 3x4 Award for playing a varsity sport in each of the three seasons during each of her four years at Saint Mary’s. She continued her athletic career playing soccer at James Madison University. “She had heard of a victory bell tradition at another school and wanted Saint Mary’s to have one,” said Mary Virginia Swain, director of public relations and publications. “Her classmates loved the idea and voted it to be their class gift to the school.”

The tradition holds that, after a Saints victory, the team members gather around the bell to ring it in whatever manner they choose. They can honor a captain, a senior, an outstanding player of the game, or even a coach, by letting them ring it first, but typically, every team member rings the bell in succession. Then, everyone poses for a team photo, which the school posts on Instagram with the hashtag #winstagram.

The Victory Bell is located at the area in the school’s quad where buses drop the teams off after away games. Teams can easily walk to the bell, so it can be rung immediately after a home game or upon the team’s return to campus. The bell can be heard throughout the campus as well as in the adjacent residential neighborhood.

“There is a neighborhood public elementary school across the street from our campus and, after hearing the bell ring one afternoon, the school’s principal tweeted that she loved hearing our bell ring, because she knows our girls have accomplished something great,” Swain added.

While many seniors present a physical item to their school, other classes have taken a different approach in many years. “For the past several years, we have encouraged them, and they have enthusiastically agreed, to allow the money to be used for financial aid rather than buying something that may or may not last over time, such as a clock, a bench, a kiosk, etc.,” said Lee Hark, associate head of school and upper school director at Durham Academy in Durham, NC.

Seniors at Trinity School of Durham & Chapel Hill in Durham, NC were encouraged “to think outside the box” this year, according to Warren Gould, director of upper school. “They are treating the faculty to a nice lunch and writing thank you letters to each one. I love it!”

At Fayetteville Academy in Fayetteville, NC, seniors use their treasury to pay for the Senior-Parent dinner, which is held the week before graduation. In past years, if the students had money left over, they also gave a physical gift to the school, such as picnic tables or outdoor benches, according to Virginia Satisky, head of middle and upper schools.

Whether class gifts consist of a tangible contribution to a school’s physical campus or an expression of gratitude through other means, they provide a way for seniors to make a difference and to leave a positive legacy that their alma maters will treasure long after they graduate. 


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