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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Jan. 18, 2008

Time capsule

The graduating class of 1958 donated this granite bench complete with a time capsule, as a parting gift to Iowa State. Over the years, class gifts have evolved from tangible objects, like this bench, to more need-oriented items such as scholarship funds. Photos by Bob Elbert.

A Sesquicentennial look back

Classy gifts

by Paula Van Brocklin

Merci. Danke. Gracias. There are countless ways to say "thank you." And for the past 131 years, most graduating classes at Iowa State have said it with a gift.

The class of 1876 initiated the time-honored tradition of class gifts by purchasing a flagpole for central campus and placing a boulder engraved with "Class of 1876" near it. No one knows what prompted the classmates to pay tribute to their alma mater in this way. But the tradition took root, and it continues to flourish today.

Time capsule

Photo by Bob Elbert.

It's the thought that counts

In Iowa State's early days, class gifts ranged from painted portraits to pianos. Some of the more quirky offerings included the class of 1913 assuming the debt of The Bomb, Iowa State's former yearbook; the classes of 1928 through 1931 purchasing wrought iron gates for the entrance of the men's lounge at the Memorial Union; and the class of 1958 donating a granite bench in front of Beardshear Hall. Not that unusual, except the bench shelters a time capsule that only the graduating class of 2058 may open.

Over the years, class gifts have evolved from mostly tangible objects, like those mentioned above, to intangible items like scholarship funds.

"Class gifts used to be highly visible and not highly functional," said Andrew Harrison, director of development at the ISU Foundation. "Generally, most of the modern gifts try to address an area of need for the school."

Fund-raising process

The Senior Class Council is responsible for the class gift every year. The council, a subcommittee of the Student Alumni Leadership Council (SALC), appoints two seniors to work with the ISU Foundation on the project. This group leads the request for donations and identifies gift ideas.

Most classes raise about $25,000 in pledges, according to Harrison. About 15 to 20 percent of the graduating seniors and graduate students who are asked to contribute will donate to the project. Once the money is pledged, the committee seeks out gift ideas, which come from across the university and the foundation. The committee then reviews the options and narrows it down to three choices. All seniors vote for the final gift.

Anniversary gifts, too

The gift-giving doesn't end at graduation. It's also tradition for classes to give a 50th anniversary gift to the university. Classes typically donate $50,000 to $60,000 for these gifts, which, like the graduating class gifts, have evolved from statues and plaques to scholarship funds and building renovations.

Recently, the class of 1957 raised the bar by contributing nearly $130,000, which established an endowed scholarship fund for ISU sophomores that rotates through the colleges each year. The gift also included $25,000 toward the construction of the new veterinary medicine teaching hospital.

Since 1876, many Iowa State students have come and gone, and the campus landscape has changed. But the tradition of class gifts is deeply rooted.

"It's important for today's graduating class to uphold the tradition of class gifts to leave a lasting impression at Iowa State," said Jesse Truax, 2008 senior class president. "With this year being the sesquicentennial, it is even more important that the class of 2008 leave a mark on our alma mater for years to come."

ISU 150th logo

Sesqui series

Inside is celebrating the sesquicentennial with a yearlong series of photos and articles that look back at Iowa State traditions, people and places.