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6.08.06 Class acts - Reunion gifts demonstrate pride in Tufts

by Mark Sullivan

The inaugural Cirque d'Elephant on May 19 turned the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center into a circus-themed extravaganza, with glittering lights, the clatter of midway games, and the electric flash of light-up butterfly wings flapped by strolling performers. The most-impressive feats, however, were performed by alumni fundraisers, who took center ring with record-breaking performances in philanthropy, setting new marks for largest class gift and for total class giving.

The event was meant to draw wows-and it succeeded. "Jumbo is the universal symbol of all stupendous things," said Kevin Boyle, A78, who hails from P.T. Barnum's hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and who chaired the Alumni Weekend Committee that conceived the gala. "We feel that way about Tufts. We're proud of Jumbo, we're proud of Brown and Blue, and we're showing it off."

The Class of '76 ran away with the 1852 Cup for largest class gift; their $42 million, raised since their last reunion, set a new Tufts record. "We are the David Ortiz of class giving," Diane Hessan, J76, said with a smile, invoking the name of the Red Sox' heaviest hitter.

Boosting the '76 tally was a $40 million gift from Jonathan M. Tisch, A76, to endow what is now known as the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. "They've clearly set a new standard for us all," said Ann Palmieri, J78, president of the Tufts University Alumni Association.

The Class of '76 entered Tufts at a time of upheaval, for the university and the nation, noted Hessan, of Newton, Massachusetts. When they were freshmen in 1972, Kent State was a fresh memory, Watergate was on the horizon, and Tufts was in serious financial trouble. She added: "When we were juniors, Jumbo burned down."

In the 30 years since, Tufts has undergone a remarkable transformation. "The people in my class are very proud of what Tufts has become, not just in terms of prestige, but in the values of the school," said Hessan. The Watertown, Massachusetts, software firm of which she is CEO employed four Tufts interns this year and hired one of them full time upon graduation.

Pride in a Tufts transformed was a common theme sounded by other alumni, whose hard work in rallying donations led to another record: overall giving by this year's reunion classes totaled $67.8 million. This figure represents all giving made by each class since their last reunion.

The Class of 1981, back for their 25th reunion, claimed the Dean's Cup for the largest class gift to the Tufts Fund in this reunion year, with nearly $284,000. Tufts "was a very wonderful college to spend four years, where you made lifelong friends," said Siobhan Teare, J81, of East Orange, New Jersey, a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court.

The Class of 1956, 50 years out, claimed the highest participation rate among reunion classes (49 percent), and with it, the Founder's Cup.