The Case for Financial Aid: Scholarship Luncheon Remarks by Lisa McElaney ’77

Lisa McElaney '77, host of Bowdoin's 2011 Scholarship Luncheon

Good afternoon. My name is Lisa McElaney. I am a Bowdoin graduate and a member of the Board of Trustees. But before I became either of those things, I was the first woman in my family to go to college and a recipient of generous financial aid from this institution.

It is my pleasure to welcome you—scholars, donors, mentors, featured speakers, families and friends. Each of you makes possible this celebration of Bowdoin’s commitment to extend the privilege of a liberal arts education to exceptional young people and here, at least, and at least for the time being, without regard to a student’s ability to pay.

Students, you and I can appreciate what the generosity of others, many here today, many of them predecessors in your seats, really means. Things become possible when an institution like this one believes in you—when the crushing costs of college do not keep the promise within you, from access to the same excellent faculty, curriculum, facilities, and resources that others can afford to pay full freight for. When potential you may not even recognize yet—is given value.

Things become possible when an institution like this one believes in you.

That our college seeks to remain blind to applicants’ need is tied purposefully to Bowdoin’s pursuit of the common good. Here, we not only encourage students to become women and men for others, we set that expectation by doing the same: by raising and allocating the funds necessary to bring talent like yours here, to sustain you through four years—no matter if you struggle—and to see that you don’t leave here with debt that sinks you before you have a chance to sail.

But the pledge Bowdoin has made to be need blind is ever subject to renewal. It hinges on the priorities we set and how we manage other critical expenditures. It is, after all, a costly covenant. And rare. Let me show you just how unusual it is.

Would those of you who are able, please stand. You represent the 5,000 institutions of higher education in the United States. Now, unless you see a yellow “X” on your chair back, would you kindly take your seat. Yellow Xs, please remain standing.

You, lonely folks, signify the percentage of American colleges and universities that accepts students without regard to family income. A mere 54 out of 5,000. And unlike Bowdoin, most of them still include sizable loans in their student aid packages.

Thank you and please take your seats.

There is so much about Bowdoin to be proud of but, to me, nothing more than its commitment to assuring access to its unparalleled resources.

There is so much about Bowdoin to be proud of but, to me, nothing more than its commitment to assuring access to its unparalleled resources. That the leadership of the College has personal experience of the impact of student aid is not inconsequential. It might surprise you to learn how many trustees, besides Barry and me, balanced work study jobs, house painting, waitressing, babysitting—with the demands of a rigorous academic work load, sports, extracurriculars.

We know how hard you work. We know, too, what your being here means to—and for—your families. We’re sure that some of you, like students I know, have school-teacher parents doing carpentry on the weekends to afford the family contribution to college. We’re certain some of your parents have taken second jobs and that may mean your younger brothers and sisters may have less time with them as a result. We recognize that some of your parents may have lost jobs in the economic downturn and that the stress they feel weighs heavy on you. We imagine that many of you, especially the first generation to college students among you, deal with exalted parental expectations sometimes. And those—while mostly a symbol of support—can also be a burden.

We understand what each of you must contend with to do your part in making Bowdoin great. That you do it, makes us want to do all the more to make Bowdoin possible for future generations of students like you.

If I may, before we close our time together, I’d like to extend our most whole-hearted thanks to the many generous donors who’ve come this afternoon—both for what you have done and, no doubt, for what you will do.

Did you know that you outnumber our students here today?

That so many of you came from distances—put your e-mail “away” messages in place, covered for your absences and skipped out of your normal Thursday routines—suggests there is a powerful draw to hearing why Kary (Antholis) would be moved to start a scholarship, and what it is that Zully (Bosques) and her peers are imagining they will do with the education you have helped make possible.

…what greater personal satisfaction could there be than to be able to accept the invitation that all of you did: the invitation to “pay it forward,” and lend your good fortune and advice to the next generation of Bowdoin scholars?

You came today despite the fact that you and I know celebrations like this one are organized with a certain degree of calculation. They put a human face on our financial aid policies. They make a return on investment evident. And they remind many of us where we came from ourselves and how we, too, are in a position to be grateful.

But if we’re honest, you and I also know that for us, the pleasure in a day like this is nothing short of selfish. After all, what greater personal satisfaction could there be than to be able to accept the invitation that all of you did: the invitation to “pay it forward,” and lend your good fortune and advice to the next generation of Bowdoin scholars?

It was the tradition when I left Bowdoin, for the director of financial aid, Walter Moulton, to meet with each graduating senior. Mostly, he wanted to be sure that we understood the importance of paying back our student loans on time. But he’d also give us general cautionary financial advice. He’d say things like: “Don’t be picky. Get yourself a paycheck as quick as you can. Live with your parents for a year. And for God’s sake, don’t buy a car.”

But I will never forget, he also told me that whether it was five dollars or five thousand, I should put aside something to donate to Bowdoin every spring—even while I was paying back my loans. He made it clear that the centuries old “chain of generosity” represented by the donors here today had a new link in it—and it was me.

It’s the end of a semester and I know all you students are broke, but I ask you to imagine a not too distant future when you too will be asked to give back to Bowdoin. I hope you will think back on this day and—when it is your turn—remember to “pay it forward” too, in whatever amount your career choice and family circumstance make possible.

Once more, thanks so much for coming and supporting Bowdoin as generously as you do.