Twenty-five years ago, Art Hofstetter, AB ’78, AB ’78, received a phone call that changed his life. A representative from the Washington University Alumni Association wanted him to become a volunteer. Hofstetter accepted without hesitation.
As part of his responsibilities, he was tapped to chair his 20th reunion class gift committee. Every five years since then, Hofstetter receives another phone call with the same request, which he gladly accepts. “My classmates are used to seeing my name on the reunion save-the-date postcard!” he says.
WashU Reunion is an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with classmates and join the tradition of giving begun by members of the Class of 1892, who celebrated their 25th reunion by making the first class gift in 1917. Since that time, undergraduate and graduate alumni have continued to give back in honor of their graduation year, creating a lasting impact at WashU.
While many celebrants support the Annual Fund by giving to the school, program, or scholarship of their choice, any gift made during their reunion year counts toward the class gift — no matter the size or designation. Not all alumni can attend reunion in person, so making a reunion class gift is a way for everyone to participate in the celebration.
“Reunion class giving allows alumni to commemorate their milestone anniversaries alongside their classmates, wherever they may be,” says Mandy Ray, executive director of annual giving programs. “Reunion celebrants are important members of the WashU community whom we recognize all year long for the leadership and generosity they demonstrate through reunion class giving.”
Powering student access
From a young age, Emilia Epstein, AB ’18, understood the sacrifices it took for her family to emigrate from Argentina to the United States in search of greater stability and opportunity. Ten years after her arrival, she was able to attend WashU thanks to a competitive financial aid package that included a scholarship and a work-study position in the law school library.
Epstein, who works for the Boston-based Cambridge Innovation Center, has lived in several cities since earning her bachelor’s degree in women, gender, and sexuality studies. But she has always found a home through WashU, regardless of her location. She loves attending networking events and meeting WashU alumni across the country. Wherever she goes, WashU is there and waiting.
“There’s a perpetual community through WashU, which I’m so thankful to have,” she says. “There have always been people willing to help me, whether by setting up job interviews or growing my professional network. It’s so nice to know fellow alumni care about my success because we have WashU in common.”
Epstein is ensuring that community will exist for future generations by volunteering on her 5th reunion class gift committee. In her role, she invites classmates back to campus and urges them to participate in their class gift. Epstein shares her personal story about how scholarship support provided her with an exceptional WashU experience and how her classmates can help remove financial barriers for other students with financial need. She wants all students to have similar opportunities.
“Reunion class giving helps make it possible for future students to have access to a WashU education and the lifelong community that follows,” she says. “It’s especially important to support students like me who otherwise couldn’t afford WashU. If our class gift can even modestly contribute to ensuring just one more student gets the additional funding needed to attend WashU, then we’ve made a difference.”
When Hofstetter thinks about WashU, he remembers an old adage from a close friend. “He would say, ‘I bleed WashU,’” Hofstetter recalls, “and I fall into that category, too.”
Hofstetter’s enthusiasm for WashU began when he was an undergraduate studying biology and economics. He was involved in numerous organizations on campus, including the course evaluation committee, which offered students a way to provide feedback to faculty. The role required close collaboration with former chancellor William H. Danforth and gave Hofstetter a glimpse into the inner workings of the university.
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“One of the things I came away with after attending WashU was how personal the experience was for students,” he says. “We formed relationships with faculty and university leadership, and Chancellor Danforth loved and cared for us. That passion spread throughout the entire WashU community and inspired people like me to be committed to the university.”
Hofstetter returned home to Chicago after graduation and joined the Chicago Regional Network because he was eager to connect with other WashU alumni. His loyalty to the university led to leadership roles with the Chicago Regional Cabinet and the William Greenleaf Eliot Society. Over the years, Hofstetter enjoyed growing the Chicago network, especially welcoming new alumni to the area. He also introduced several students to WashU as a board member of HighSight, a nonprofit that provides college-readiness programs for low-income high school students in Chicago.
As the Class of 1978 reunion class gift committee chair, Hofstetter shares why he gives to inspire others to do the same. “I ask my classmates to reflect on how they got to where they are today,” says Hofstetter, who retired from Morgan Stanley and now splits his time between Florida and Michigan. “It might have been a long journey, but it all started at WashU. The university was the platform for our success, so I encourage them to give back to honor their WashU experience.”
A top university
Alumni coming together through reunion class giving contribute profound support for the university. Tuition revenue covers only 60% of the cost of providing a WashU education, and Annual Fund support from class gifts helps cover the remainder in the form of scholarships, faculty support, and much more.
Reunion class gifts also improve WashU’s alumni giving rate, a key factor in university rankings. Those rankings bolster the value of a WashU degree, particularly in the job market. Top employers recognize that WashU graduates enter the workforce with the skills and knowledge that enable them to hit the ground running.
“Participating in the reunion class gift opens doors for alumni to have more meaningful relationships with the university and each other. An engaged and supportive alumni network is essential to continuing the tradition and legacy of WashU.”Mandy Ray, executive director of annual giving programs
In fiscal year 2021-22, nearly 16% of undergraduate alumni gave to WashU. Even so, that number is below average among peer institutions. Annual giving programs executive director Ray would like to see alumni participation increase to 18%, which is closer to pre-pandemic participation levels. Making a reunion class gift is one way to help accomplish this goal.
Enthusiastic volunteers like Hofstetter and Epstein are fundamental to the success of WashU Reunion, and Ray hopes more celebrants will follow their lead and give their time and treasure as well. “Participating in the reunion class gift opens doors for alumni to have more meaningful relationships with the university and each other,” Ray says. “Those who give are more likely to stay connected, get involved, and become active in the alumni community. An engaged and supportive alumni network is essential to continuing the tradition and legacy of WashU.”