Continuing A Commitment To First-Generation College Students
One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I never met my Grandfather Leahy. He passed away before I was born. I’m told I get my passion for education from him. He cared so deeply about education, in large part because he never had the chance to obtain one. He was a self-educated man – a traveling salesman who spent his free time reading the classics.
He made a commitment that all of the Leahys who came after him would obtain a college degree. According to my father, one of the biggest fights he ever had with his father was the day that he told Grandfather Leahy that he might not go to college. “Over my dead body,” my grandfather protested. “If you get an education, you get a chance.”
He believed that a college degree would open up economic opportunities. But, perhaps even more important than that, a college degree was the surest way to a meaningful life. All of the Leahys subsequently earned college degrees, some even earned graduate degrees, and became lawyers, doctors, business leaders, teachers – even a university president.
Why do I feel compelled to share such a personal story? Because the type of transformation that my Grandfather Leahy envisioned – lives transformed by education – is still happening at Wilkes. The University has a long history of supporting first-generation college students. Indeed, it was founded to serve these students, and they continue to make up a large part of our population.
At Wilkes, we’re taking that commitment seriously, establishing the First Generation Fund to provide more scholarships to enable those students to obtain a first-class Wilkes degree. To raise money for those scholarships, we held on June 7th the first of what will be an annual event – the Founder’s Gala.
The need to provide more scholarships is clear. At Wilkes, 95 percent of our students receive either merit- or need-based financial aid. Among freshmen entering Wilkes last fall, 41 percent were eligible for Pell grants, the federal aid program supporting those with the most economic need. And, 54 percent of those freshmen were the first in their families to seek a four-year degree.
I’m proud to say that Wilkes continues its commitment to support first-generation college students. As Grandfather Leahy put it, “If you get an education, you get a chance.” With initiatives like the First Generation Fund, we can all have a hand in making it happen.
Patrick F. Leahy
Wilkes University President