Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert
A fund supported by Class of 1981 alumni to provide emergency aid for current Boston College students has, as of this month, raised more than $240,000 in its two years of existence.
Nearly 160 class donors and friends have contributed to the Convocation of ’81 Eagles: Eagles in Crisis Fund, initiated following the Class of 1981’s 35th reunion celebration in 2016. Since then, the fund—administered through the Office of University Mission and Ministry—has helped pay for funeral arrangements, urgent home travel, short-term housing accommodations, and other crises affecting the welfare of BC students and their families. The fund also has provided other kinds of resource assistance and aid: eye care and the purchase of eyeglasses for an international student; supermarket gift cards for a student with special dietary needs; and dental expenses for a student requiring an emergency procedure.
I was deeply moved by how this class, preparing for their 35th reunion, wanted to do something to give back—but in particular, to give to students who are struggling or in need. As a class, they felt they had help all along the way during their time at BC, and they felt it was important that BC students of today know there are people who care about them. Since the fund was started, so many students have benefited from the love, generosity, and zeal of the Class of 1981.
The Convocation of ’81 Eagles embrace of the Eagles in Crisis Fund was conceived through class members’ desire to memorialize the shared kinship and camaraderie forged during their Boston College years, according to co-organizers, while making a purposeful, lasting contribution to the quality of student life at the University—and putting into action the Jesuit values in which they were nurtured at the Heights.
“It was a way of personalizing our devotion to BC, and doing something that would make a difference,” says Joseph Harkins ’81. “Obviously, BC won’t sit idle if there is a student who has a family emergency or other overwhelming need. But having a fund, supported through alumni, that specifically addresses such needs means that money isn’t being diverted from some other program. As a group, we challenged ourselves to take ownership of this cause and seek to unify our class giving; each of us having been the beneficiaries of BC, we felt this was how we could return the favor in a tangible way.”
The very name “Convocation of ’81 Eagles” conveys this sense of shared mission with its definitive communal identity, notes J.T. Fucigna ’81, P’17. “The word ‘convocation’ means ‘to come together,’ and is usually associated with an ecclesiastical purpose. But it’s also the formal name for a gathering of eagles.”
Harkins, Fucigna and other fund co-organizers credit Vice President for University Mission and Ministry Jack Butler, S.J., for lending his inspiration and guidance. Representing a larger group of classmates, 16 of the 1981 alumni met with Fr. Butler in June of 2016 to seek ideas for a collective legacy the Class of 1981 could leave to stay present on campus. During the conversation, the alumni spoke of the many friendships formed in their undergraduate years and how these had sustained class members through times of joy and accomplishment, but also misfortune and tragedy.
So, the alumni asked Fr. Butler, how could they show their appreciation for what BC had done for them, and where could they make an immediate impact?
Fr. Butler explained the kinds of adversity and challenges that can prevent current BC students from realizing the fulfillment so many alumni have experienced, and described the resources and programs the University uses to aid students in emergency and crisis situations. This made an impression on the grads.
“A death in the family or a housing problem is a serious issue for anyone, but for students of modest means it may derail their BC journey,” says Greg Bowerman ’81. “Sometimes, it’s the things you don’t think about that can be a considerable expense for these students and their families. If they have to drop out of BC because of compounded financial and emotional crises, potentially they drop out of their life pursuit.
“So, it’s a matter of making up that difference, extending a helping hand, which can keep a student in BC and enable him or her to finish school and achieve their dreams. And they will give back to others in need just like we are today.”
Fr. Butler praises the 1981 alumni for their thoughtfulness. “I was deeply moved by how this class, preparing for their 35th reunion, wanted to do something to give back—but in particular, to give to students who are struggling or in need. As a class, they felt they had help all along the way during their time at BC, and they felt it was important that BC students of today know there are people who care about them.
“Since the fund was started, so many students have benefited from the love, generosity, and zeal of the Class of 1981.”
As the circle of ’81 grads and other donors has widened, the group has encountered occasional skepticism about the crisis fund: Is this some kind of a social service program? Shouldn’t students be learning about self-reliance? Won’t it be impossible to meet every need?
But there also has been overwhelming support, Fucigna says: “We heard from two classmates who as undergrads had received assistance from the University community when their parents died, and they felt that a dedicated fund like this is very important. We wanted people to understand this: The Ignatian ideals of caring, empathy, and action we were shown at BC during our time—and which has permeated our friendships—is something we, as a class, can foster and ensure is there for the next generations of BC alumni.”
The crisis fund’s fast-growing support has resulted in many good works, say the 1981 grads: A student whose father died suddenly, and whose family could not afford an airline ticket, was able to fly home in time to help her family plan for, and attend, the funeral. An undergraduate who was orphaned following the deaths of their only sibling and only surviving parent received assistance purchasing books for the semester. Parents of a badly injured student arrived in Boston with no place to stay, and got help in finding and paying for a hotel room near the hospital where their child was recuperating.
“We believe that Fr. Jack and his University Mission and Ministry staff have the insight and judgment to determine how the Eagles in Crisis Fund can be of the best benefit,” says Harkins, “and put to practical use those values and beliefs we cherish so much as part of our BC DNA.”
To join the Convocation of Eagles and donate to the Eagles in Crisis Fund, go to bc.edu/give1981.
Sean Smith | University Communications | March 2019