The Colgate Scene
November 2005

A message from President Rebecca S. Chopp
Access changes lives

[Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

Your stories

President Chopp discusses topics of importance to the campus community in her Colgate Scene columns. Share your thoughts on how these issues might affect you as an alumnus or your children at Colgate; visit for more information on how to submit your story.

In my columns, I often talk about how education serves society and the world. I fundamentally believe that America needs Colgate University to find the most capable students and educate them to be leaders. Our challenge goes beyond simply finding those students. We often also need to provide them with the access that they would not be able to gain on their own.

So in this column, I want to talk about something equally as powerful and important as serving our democracy, but far more personal and individual -- how college financial aid changes lives for those who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity.

I need to tell you a bit about my own story. I wanted to go to college, but no one else in my family had ever done so. I wanted to become a teacher or a scientist, but I had no way to pay for my education. Although I planned to work while in school, I still would not be able to afford the tuition (even in the 1970s) on my own.

It was financial aid, provided through the generosity of others, that enabled me to attend school. This opportunity changed my life. The first scholarship I ever received allowed me to take courses in what would become my major field of study -- philosophy and religion, an area I never anticipated I would study when I entered college. When I went for my master's degree, I was given a scholarship that had been created by a family in my community. It meant a lot to be able to know their name, and to this day, I thank that family for changing my life. In graduate school, I received yet another scholarship that was part of a general fund contributed to by a number of people, all of whom I still hold in fondest affection and to whom I owe a great debt.

The people and schools who supported me, who changed my life, who invested in me and my future, had no idea of what I would do with it. None of them probably ever imagined that this person from Salina, Kan., would end up serving as president of a prestigious university far away in the Snow Belt! But these generous people believed in education and in changing lives; they believed in sending bright working-class kids to college. These wise people realized that educating one person at a time was the single-best way to help our society reap the talent it needs, in fields from banking to education, from science to the arts, and from politics to the media.

Every day I am thankful for the individuals, families, organizations, and educational institutions who provided the financial support that changed my life. Some I have been able to thank personally, and others I thank by attempting to be a responsible recipient of their investment. I don't see my education and my career as solely my own. Those who invested in me and changed my life need to be paid back. I try to do that by using my education well -- to pass on those benefits to others and to society.

That's the story of how financial aid changed my life. Now I want to make sure that Colgate (which I do believe provides the best education) is accessible to everyone who merits this fine education -- that we can bring the most qualified students here, not only those who can afford to pay for a private liberal arts education, but also those with fantastic talents and experience but who do not have the financial means to pay for college.

Elsewhere in this issue, you will read about students and graduates whose lives have been changed thanks in large part to the generosity and wisdom of those who have supported our financial aid program, and about the challenges that Colgate is facing in providing financial aid for those who need it. I hope that you are inspired by these stories, which are concrete examples that demonstrate the support of financial aid as a sound investment in tomorrow's leaders. To me, this country's generous philanthropy in providing access for deserving students in need is the best expression of the American spirit. As you can see, financial aid is a heartfelt passion for me.

Some of you who are reading this have already changed lives by directing your annual contributions to financial aid or to a specific scholarship fund in honor of a class, alumni club, or loved one -- or by establishing your own endowed scholarship at Colgate. Thank you.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we became the first school in the country where every graduate invests in future students in this way?

Providing access to a college education, in my mind, is an act of love toward individuals whose lives can be changed as well as toward society, which will benefit from the leadership of the brightest and best. And such love, I think, can be passed on by our graduates who lead in so many fields.

Thank you for changing lives.

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