The greatest differentiating strength at Woodberry Forest is the emotional loyalty of our alumni community. I have a friend who, years after his graduation, drove hundreds of miles to Woodberry so that he could propose to his fiancée on campus. Other alumni regale me time and again with their stories: how their breath catches, even now, when they turn into the school after a long time away; how much they enjoy a chance encounter with a fellow alumnus from many years ago; or how they were moved when they returned to campus for the April reunion and could see, firsthand, that we’ve not wavered from our commitment to the bedrock ideals of honor and integrity that have shaped this place from its beginning more than 125 years ago.
While drafting the introduction to the Orange Book earlier this week, I struggled to articulate the importance of the honor system, in two-dimensional words, for new and old boys alike. I have come to realize that the honor system thrives at Woodberry because it has been passed down from generation to generation and has stood the test of time. The trust that all Woodberry boys enjoy is a gift from every alumnus who cherishes his experience here as the most formative of his life. My greatest hope, as we turn to the end of summer and the start of a new academic year, is that each of our boys will cultivate and nurture this gift as one of the most precious he will ever receive, one that he can pass on to boys who come after he graduates.
For me, alumni giving is personal. I was able to attend Woodberry because of the generosity of alumni who supported the financial aid endowment many years ago. I have been a loyal contributor to the Amici Fund since I graduated in 1986. And while I have not previously been in a position to make a meaningful gift to one of Woodberry’s capital campaigns, my wife, Jennifer, and I joined the Walker Society twelve years ago with an estate gift. I hope that one day our gift will make it possible for boys we will never know to attend Woodberry Forest, just as gifts from others did for me more than thirty years ago. Simply put, I want to pay forward my affection for this place so that the Woodberry experience will be as meaningful in the future as it is today.
I am excited by the public launch of a planned giving campaign at Woodberry, an initiative I hope every alumnus and every friend of the school will consider supporting. For more than twenty years, we have recognized those who have made estate gifts to Woodberry and become members of the Walker Society. This group of strong Woodberry supporters has close to 400 members, nearly 300 of whom are living. Walker Society members are recognized as members forever, included in our Annual Report each year, and invited to the annual Captains Club dinner the night before our football game with Episcopal High School.
Over the course of this campaign, we hope to double the size of the Walker Society. So far, during the campaign’s quiet phase, we have added thirty-six new members. We are off to a great start, and eager to secure Woodberry’s financial sustainability through gifts that will benefit the school in the years to come. We’re calling the campaign “On My Honor,” a reference to the deeply embedded culture of trust that is the foundation of our community. As alumni, we’ve all signed the pledge countless times on blue books, tests, and assignments. By supporting the On My Honor campaign, we’re expressing our support for the school’s commitment to character as its formative value. Simply put, we’re paying forward our devotion to and affection for Woodberry Forest.
Alumni often ask me, “What is the school’s greatest long term need?” Given the splendor of this campus, the far-sighted investments we’ve made in the physical plant over many years, and the culture of excellence we enjoy, the answer to me is clear. Going forward, Woodberry needs an endowment commensurate with our dream to attract the very best and most enthusiastic boys, no matter where they come from and whether or not their families pay full tuition. I want to do all I can to assure that we bring boys here who are eager to embrace this place as alumni have for well over one hundred years. Likewise, I want to be sure that we’re able to recruit and retain the very best faculty who will know, challenge, and love the boys so that they become the best they can be. That’s a dream worthy of our past, in line with our needs today, and connected to a vision that will draw us all together. And that’s what On My Honor can do for Woodberry Forest.