Posted on May 23, 2017
When Drs. Nancy Down and Homer Yang reached out to their Class of 1980 colleagues with the idea of establishing a U of T-matched award for MD students in financial need, they set off a storm of alumni support. The group swiftly surpassed the minimum $25,000 needed to get matching University funds through the Boundless Promise Program and raised a $39,450 endowment which will provide $3,000 to one student every year.
But they also inspired other generous — and somewhat competitive — alumni classes to launch their own gifts. Faculty of Medicine writer Carolyn Morris spoke with Down and Yang on their tight-knit class and their motivations for paying it forward.
How did you decide to create the Meds Class of 8T0 Award?
Dr. Homer Yang: As a class we’re such a tight group. We’ve always had such a huge turnout for reunions and so many of us have kept in touch over the years that I really wanted our group to have some sort of legacy. I was thinking about a scholarship around the time of our 35th reunion when I learned the University would match donations for needs-based student awards endowed at U of T. That’s when I approached our President for Life, Nancy, with the idea.
Dr. Nancy Down: (laughs)
President For Life? That sounds like a tough job!
Down: It is tough, because our class loves to come to reunions! Of course, we have a whole organizing committee putting these together, so I can’t claim to be doing all the work. Every five years or so we get together, and we’re usually around 150 people each time! We’re unique in terms of how well we’ve kept in touch over the years.
Yang: Nancy’s also got a lot to do with that — she’s a big part of the glue that keeps us together.
Down: You’re being generous! I have to admit, when Homer came to me with the idea of the class gift, I wasn’t so sure. It’s always awkward to ask people for money. So I thought, let’s just send out an email to a few people who are still connected to U of T, and see what they say. I ended up sending an email at 5:30 a.m., and I was blown away. Within the hour, almost all of the 20 or so people I’d emailed responded really enthusiastically, saying “absolutely” and “that’s fantastic.” I couldn’t believe everyone was even up that early, never mind their willingness to donate to the cause.
Why do you think your colleagues were so enthusiastic?
Down: I think we’re at a point in our careers where we can give back. And I also think that many of us relied on scholarships and bursaries ourselves, so it’s really nice to be able to help support others.
Yang: It’s also significantly more expensive for today’s students than when we went through the program.
Down: And it’s a really neat way to recognize our group – we’re such a cool class!
What is it that makes your class so special?
Down: We just really liked each other. Many of us also came from humble beginnings, and we were really appreciative of the opportunity to go to medical school. We got along well and stuck up for each other. But really, even though I’ve always thought we were an impressive class, I was gobsmacked with how many people donated to this gift. It made me really proud.
The Class of 1980’s gift has inspired others, including the classes of 1978 and 1976, to launch their own U of T-matched gifts through the Boundless Promise Program — both these classes have exceeded $30,000.
To find out more about Faculty of Medicine class gifts, contact Carmen Sebert at 416-978-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or donate online (select the ‘Specific Program’ designation and be sure to include the class year in the comments section).