Class of 1917 ‘pays it forward’ to the Class of 2017

Alumni, students, and faculty members gathered on March 30 to celebrate a landmark intergenerational gift to Yale: the Class of 1917 centennial contribution. The gift originated 50 years ago, when members of the Class of 1917 created a fund during their 50th reunion that would benefit the students of 2017. Children of the original donors were on hand to present a ceremonial check in the amount of $661,462.46, which was added to the 2017 senior class gift.

President Peter Salovey ’86 Ph.D. hosted the event at the President’s House. Representing the Class of 1917 were William D. Farnam ’66, son of Henry W. Farnam ’17; his cousin James B. Farnam ’73; and Beatrice Bartlett ’80 Ph.D., a daughter of Russell S. Bartlett ’17, ’24 Ph.D., and niece of Stanley Daggett ’17.

Lexi Butler ’17 of Pierson College, one of the current senior class gift campaign co-chairs, spoke to the assembled guests, expressing her gratitude for the centennial contribution. “On behalf of the Class of 2017, I would like to say thank you to the members of the Class of 1917 for their extraordinary gift,” she said. “Not only is this an incredible act of generosity, it really is indicative of the type of community that we will join upon graduation.”

Butler also recognized her fellow co-chairs, Alex Alcala ’17 of Pierson College, Taylor Rogers ’17 of Branford College, and Galen McAllister ’17 of Jonathan Edwards College, who used the January announcement of the centennial gift to encourage giving by their classmates. “It was truly a special experience to serve with the three other senior class gift campaign co-chairs, Alex, Galen and Taylor. This contribution definitely inspired us and all of our volunteers and donors to really promote the crucial role the Alumni Fund plays in our everyday lives as students.”

The Class of 1917 has a special place in Yale’s history as “the war class”: nearly all fought in World War I, and 17 gave their lives. Throughout the years, the members of the class remained extremely close and honored the service and sacrifice of their classmates. “This is a wonderful way to keep the memory of the class going,” Farnam said. “They were a fun bunch, they were very loyal to Yale, and they were always looking to give back.”

The class’s centennial gift is unprecedented at Yale. On June 15, 1967, 101 members of the class assembled in Jonathan Edwards College to celebrate their 50th reunion. From this gathering, a plan emerged for class members to contribute to a fund that would be placed under Yale’s fiscal stewardship and allowed to grow until 2017. By February 1969, the fund had reached almost $1,900, roughly $12,500 in today’s dollars, and classmates estimated the gift would grow to around $80,000, accounting for inflation. The strong performance of the Yale endowment yielded results more than eight times that amount.

Along with $17,189.88 raised by current seniors, this contribution brought the 2017 senior class gift to $678,652.34, the largest in Yale’s history. The funds will be used chiefly for unrestricted current use support, with smaller portions directed to financial aid, facilities, teaching, library resources, and student life. Matching funds provided by alumni and parents will supply another $60,000 in current use scholarships.

“The students of 1917 had no way of knowing what the makeup of the Class of 2017 would be,” said Salovey, “but they believed that the Yale students of 2017 would be deserving of their generosity. I am enormously grateful for their trust in this institution, and in the current and future students who are its heart and soul. I think it’s safe to say that the members of the Class of 1917 would be astonished to discover how their contributions grew.”