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Hamilton Alumni Review
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Imagining and Building Tomorrow's Hamilton

The College begins its bicentennial commemoration in earnest this fall and officially marks its 200th birthday on May 26, 2012, but in many ways Hamilton’s third century is already well under way.

Bicentennial Initiatives: A Conversation

Jeff Little ’71, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of Bicentennial Initiatives, spoke recently with Executive Director of Communications Mike Debraggio about the new campaign, its purpose and his own role in “making a difference” for Hamilton. More ...

A 2009 strategic plan articulated a long-term vision for the Hill; recent expansions and renovations of the Kirner-Johnson Building, the Sadove Student Center at Emerson Hall and the Days-Massolo Center (formerly the Ferry Building) provide new learning and social spaces; and, in 2010, a dramatic public dedication to need-blind admission marked a new era by extending the College’s commitment to opportunity for all deserving students.

Prudent planning and a healthy financial base have enabled Hamilton to move ahead boldly on such initiatives against a tide of economic doubt. But that financial health is itself built upon another, deeper foundation: the tradition of generosity and support demonstrated by generation after generation of alumni and friends.

The Hamilton community is again embracing that tradition as the College embarks upon its $117 million Bicentennial Initiatives campaign. Jeff Little ’71, who serves as vice chair of the Board of Trustees, will lead the campaign, the third consecutive such effort he has led for Hamilton.

“I find when I talk to people that there is generally a love of the College, a great bond that is already in place,” Little says. “And it isn’t difficult to ask people to support an institution that they feel so strongly about.”

The Bicentennial Initiatives campaign, unlike its predecessors, is named in the plural, and for a reason. It has three distinct objectives, each of them crucial to the College’s mission as it begins its third century:

Access: $40 million to endow the student scholarships that fulfill the need-blind pledge offered by the Board of Trustees in 2010. Need-blind colleges make admission decisions without considering an applicant’s ability to pay. Hamilton is one of just a handful of U.S. colleges and universities that are need-blind and that also meet the full demonstrated need of each admitted student. (More about Hamilton’s need-blind policy)

Creativity: $35 million to construct new facilities for the visual arts and theatre, including the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art. These innovative new spaces will encourage all students and faculty members — not just those specializing in art and theatre — to integrate creative work into learning and life on the Hill. They will replace outdated and isolated facilities, enabling the entire Hamilton community to share in the life of the imagination. (More about these new facilities)

Opportunity: $30 million for the Annual Fund, which both helps fund the College’s need-blind initiative and provides a regular income stream to benefit the campus community and its daily operations. Most alumni, parents and friends who support Bicentennial Initiatives will do so by making unrestricted gifts — gifts that the College can use in many ways, as the need arises — to the Annual Fund. (More about the Annual Fund)

The campaign’s $117 million goal includes an additional $12 million that will enable the College to address other priorities by responding to opportunities offered by government grants, planned gifts and donor interests. (More about Bicentennial Initiatives)

While Bicentennial Initiatives has three distinct objectives, it serves a single mission. “I think the common denominator is making a difference and making Hamilton even better than it has been,” Little says of the campaign, which kicked off at December’s 1812 Leadership Circle Weekend and will conclude June 30, 2013. “It’s not just about the arms race, comparing ourselves to other institutions. We clearly are aware of how our facilities stack up against other institutions, and I don’t think that is irrelevant, but we’re really aiming to be the best we can be.”

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Bicentennial Initiatives: A Conversation

Jeff Little ’71, vice chair of the Board of Trustees and chair of Bicentennial Initiatives, spoke recently with Executive Director of Communications Mike Debraggio about the new campaign, its purpose and his own role in “making a difference” for Hamilton.

Jeff Little ’71 addresses alumni and friends during the launch of Bicentennial Initiatives at December’s 1812 Leadership Circle Weekend in New York City.Photo by: Matthew Sussman
Jeff Little ’71 addresses alumni and friends during the launch of Bicentennial Initiatives at December’s 1812 Leadership Circle Weekend in New York City.

Mike Debraggio: This is your third time chairing a Hamilton campaign. How does this Bicentennial Initiatives effort differ from the previous two you chaired?

Jeff Little: There are two things that are different. This campaign is much more focused on the priorities that the Board of Trustees has decided are most important. And of course the time frame of the campaign is shorter than what we’ve done in the past.
 

M.D.: Apart from the dollar figure, how will you measure the success of this campaign at the end of June 2013, when it concludes?

J.L.: Well, let’s not say “apart from the dollar figure.” We have to make those dollars, OK? One wants these campaigns to make a difference for Hamilton. And I think the priorities are the right priorities. We definitely need the arts facilities we have committed to, and of course the need-blind initiative is something we are all very proud of that needs to be funded. Those things will make a difference. And then, of course, the Annual Fund is how most alumni, parents and so forth will give to the campaign.
 

M.D.: How do you convince potential donors that this particular campaign is worth supporting?

J.L.: I find when I talk to people that there is generally a love of the College, a great bond that is already in place. And it isn’t difficult to ask people to support an institution that they feel so strongly about. There is a passion for Hamilton that I share, that most alumni share, and we have that common bond. I give to Hamilton because I do think resources, financial resources, are one of the great differentiators for college institutions.
 

M.D.: What specifically appeals to you about Bicentennial Initiatives?

J.L.: I have a particular affinity for this campaign for two reasons. One, as I said, I am very proud that Hamilton is one of the few institutions to have committed to being need-blind. And we did it in a difficult time, which I think was rather extraordinary.

On a personal note, my son, who was in the Class of 2004, was an art major, so I was acutely aware of the dearth of really good facilities for the arts at Hamilton. And of course Minor Theater is a building that many of us are familiar with, and we know that it certainly doesn’t serve the theatre community very well.

I believe that the arts are an important part of the liberal arts. Yet when I was looking at colleges with both of my sons, it was clear to me that although Hamilton had superior facilities in many ways, our arts facilities were clearly behind most of our competitors.
 

M.D.: Bicentennial Initiatives has a three-part focus: support for need-blind admission and the new arts facilities that you just mentioned, and the Annual Fund. What’s the common denominator among these needs, and how do they fit together?

J.L: I think the common denominator is making a difference, and making Hamilton even better than it has been. It’s not just about the arms race, comparing ourselves to other institutions. We clearly are aware of how our facilities stack up against other institutions, and I don’t think that is irrelevant, but we’re really aiming to be the best we can be. It’s about providing the finest-quality, broad-based education that we can possibly deliver to those people who are deserving of admission. And our initiatives, I think, are all aimed toward not only getting the best facilities but getting the very best students.
 

M.D.: Tell us, what does a campaign chair actually do? Some people probably think it’s a figurehead position, but isn’t there a substantial amount of hands-on effort that goes into it?

J.L.: There is. Actually it takes a lot of time, and I’m lucky to have the time. That’s partly because, having sold my business four years ago, I’m not as engaged in that as I used to be. I would say that I probably spend seven to10 hours a week, sometimes more, on Hamilton-related matters.

What a campaign chairman does is talk to people. And I enjoy that. As I have said to you, the Hamilton community shares a great passion for their College, for their experience. And they’re great people. I love talking to them. They do interesting and diverse things in their professional lives, and I find that I have many things in common with them.
 

M.D.: Still, you are taking this role for the third time, which is unprecedented as far as we know. What does that say about you, what does that say about Hamilton, and what does that say about your relationship with the College?

J.L.: I think what it really says is that I enjoy it, because I don’t think anybody would do this if they didn’t.
 

M.D.: Have you always been involved in volunteering for Hamilton? And if not, what motivated you to become more involved?

J.L.: I’ve not always been involved. I think it was in the 1980s — I graduated in 1971 — that Joe Anderson [’44, then vice president of communications and development] came to see me in my office, as he did so many others who are now in leadership positions at the College. And he asked me to get involved in one of the fundraising initiatives that he was undertaking. That began a growing involvement with the College, which culminated in my becoming a trustee. I have particularly enjoyed my experience as a trustee, and it has very much added to my long-term appreciation of Hamilton. The board is a superior group of people — not always of the same mind, but very collegial, and I very much enjoy interacting with them. I always have felt that Hamilton when I was a student and now as an alumnus has made me better, and that’s one of the things I love about it.
 

M.D.: Five years down the road, when you look back after this campaign concludes, what do you expect to see? What kind of an impact do you think this campaign will have on Hamilton?

J.L.: I firmly believe that this campaign as well as earlier campaigns have really made a difference in the quality of a Hamilton education. When I think back to how the College has been physically transformed in the last, oh, 15 or 20 years, it’s remarkable. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been like if we hadn’t done those things. It’s a very different place. And I think that is proving to be a good investment.

Hamilton is hot. One only needs to talk to [Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid] Monica Inzer about what is going on in admissions. That [success] is not unrelated to the investment that we have made in the College, and I think that’s what trustees do. It’s a hard choice as to where to put our resources, but I think we are getting immediate dividends on the investment that we have made.
 

M.D.: How about the importance of the need-blind initiative and what that will mean to the type of student who attends Hamilton?

J.L.: I think that over time, Hamilton is going to have to adapt, and this helps us in regard to the demographic shifts that are happening in the country. We want to be more diverse on campus, and the need-blind initiative is going to help us be more diverse. It is going to help us mirror American society in a way that has been less the case in the past. That’s something we have to do, so this just helps us get out in front of that reality.

I would say one more thing. It’s fun to meet students, and we do that at least once a year. Students at Hamilton have always been bright, but I am impressed with how mature the students are now. There is a definite difference in the maturity, direction and motivation of the students that I meet now. These are serious people who are looking for a superior education, and I’m glad that we’re in the position to provide it.

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