The Best Mother's Day Gift--Education for Every Generation

Mother's Day is always a very special occasion for all of us at Hunter College because we don't just mark this holiday by celebrating the classic joys of motherhood. We commemorate a special kind of mom, the ones who went to Hunter College. These mothers are wonderful parents who cared about education - their own and others' - and who spawned a grateful generation of donors who support their mothers, and her college.

Many of these remarkable Hunter mothers receive far more than another box of chocolates or a short-lasting, floral bouquet for Mother's Day. They get a gift that's enduring, meaningful and personal, and gives to others too.

When I became Hunter's president in 2001, I began to meet men and women - including some of the most successful in New York - who told me how their Hunter moms filled them with their own passion for education. It seemed a natural step to establish a scholarship fund in honor of these women and to tie it Mother's Day as a creative new way to say, Thanks for everything, Mom.

Today those thank-you's come from a longer list of families than we could ever imagine. And the impact of their dollars is huge too.

In fact, our New York Times ad this Mother's Day celebrates all the moms in whose honor Hunter's Mother's Day Scholarships have been established. Publishing names in our ad was part of our pledge to our generous donors. We wanted each of their moms to wake up on Mother's Day and be thrilled to see her name in the Newspaper of Record, while being served the iconic breakfast-in-bed, of course.

This 11-year-old Fund now raises about $500,000 annually in scholarship funds for financially strapped Hunter students- it makes their college educations possible. Our first ad in 2005 was a quarter page. This year it is two full pages; that's how big this has grown.

Part of what fuels that growth is the realization that these women were extraordinary pioneers when they attended Hunter - and that Hunter is, and continues to be, an empowering force that offers a first-class education at an affordable price.

They were pioneers because they grew up in an era when society didn't encourage higher education for females. In fact, it actively discouraged it.

Getting married was considered the height of ambition and girls were told there was no point in earning a BA when the only letters they needed to add to their names were M, R, S.

But as I like to say, you can always tell a Hunter girl, but you can tell her much. The Hunter moms defied convention, got their degrees and carried their love of education and their ambitions out into a skeptical world.

Their stories are only hinted at in our Mother's Day ad, but when you know the details, it's impressive. Arlene Weiss Alda, wife of actor Alan Alda, graduated in 1954 with plans to be a classical clarinetist, won a Fulbright - a rarity for a woman back then - and is now an award-winning author. The late Evelyn Hausner Lauder '58 married Leonard Lauder and then helped build the Estée Lauder cosmetics company into an international powerhouse, all while raising a family.

As it has grown, the Mother's Day Scholarship Fund has expanded to pay tribute, across generations, to other family members. Along with the many mothers honored by their children, there are now Hunter grandmothers and aunts too. The first name in the chronological listings is that of Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. (coincidentally, the Times' publisher) who is honoring his great-grandmother, Rachel Piexotto Hays Sulzberger of the Class of 1878. One of the entries is my tribute to my great aunt Hannah Raab '26, the one person my family always turned to in times of trouble or uncertainty because she, and she alone, had a college education.

Some donors are not family members but grateful friends, like real estate developer Bruce Ratner and former New York Parks Commissioner Henry Stern who joined to thank their mentor, the late Bess Myerson '45, the first Jewish Miss America, broadcast personality, nationally renowned consumer advocate and one of Hunter's best known graduates. And Klara Apat Silverstein, BA '54, MA '56, is honored for her wisdom and generosity by her children, her husband, and by her friends as well.

It's deeply moving to see how the women of Hunter College (an all-female school until 1964) have touched and changed the lives of so many - children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, husbands, friends and colleagues.

And most important, their devotion to learning lives on in a scholarship fund that makes a college education possible for generations of students they will never know.

Many are new to the United States, just as those groundbreaking Hunter women were a generation ago. These students, too, dream of a different kind of future in which education will open new doors. Then perhaps they too will wake up one Mother's Day morning, years from now, grateful to another generation of children that has chosen to honor them for the education they received, and shared.