Last Friday night we held our annual Victoria Alumni evening. Very well attended by about a hundred and thirty people at the Union Club, it was a night as these nights often are: of meeting old friends one hasn’t seen for a long time, of reconnecting with a few older alumni who might not have been back to a school event for two or three decades or longer, and of trying to fool oneself into thinking that the School now couldn’t possibly be as good as when you were a student here – perhaps in the 1980s, before original Harvey House started to fall down and had to be closed; or perhaps in the early nineties, when the old pool – affectionately known as “the Swamp” because of its dinginess – still functioned; or perhaps earlier, in the fifties, when the original “old” gym (not the more recent “old gym” which was torn down to make way for the Crothall Centre in 2000) still hosted basketball games and school plays. It was a great night, with a very sociable mood, full of news from graduates who are doing the most fascinating things with their lives. Most notably, Tim Williams, class of 1983, received the Distinguished Alumni Award. Tim is a composer of musicals, film scores, songs and other pieces of music, and had spent the day conducting our Senior Orchestras. By all reports, his teaching was exhilarating.
Always on such occasions I give an update from the School. On this occasion the piece of news that received the most impressive intake of breath was a comparison of how much financial aid the School now gives out: Twenty years ago, the school provided $150,000 of financial aid in the form of bursaries and scholarships, and this past year we gave out $1.7 million.
$1.7 million. I highlighted this figure in a blog entry a month ago, referring to a Globe and Mail article. It is an impressive number, and represents one of the best financial aid programs of any independent school in Canada, but I can tell you that it is not as impressive as the reaction that I am fortunate to be privy to but which most others are not: the reaction of the students who are the recipients of this financial aid. These students enter the School in September with an unavoidable modicum of trepidation – it is a new place, different from any school they had dreamed of. But by this point, eight weeks into the year, their reaction is one of pure gratitude and enthusiasm. For these students, it is a life-changing experience, a feast of opportunities that is heart of all our students’ experience but which for these particular students would not have been possible without the generosity of donors.
Last June we conducted a Parent Survey (about which parents are going to receive some information soon – the results were very positive, complex and helpful). One of the questions asked in the survey was “Where do you believe the School should allocate money raised in fundraising?” The majority of responses indicated that parents want that money to go to scholarship and bursary programs. The consultant who did the work for us, and who has done similar surveys in over ninety Canadian schools in the past fifteen years, said he had never seen that result in a school before – it was a remarkable statement about the idealism and generosity of our parent body. If you are feeling a thrill spreading up your spine, enjoy it: it is the thanks from these students flowing to you. Vivat!