[NOTE: The following "Profile in Giving" appeared in Issue 9 of the Promise Update, published in the Fall 2016 Winsor Bulletin.]
Recently, we had the opportunity to sit down with David and Stacey Goel P'23, the parents of a Class II student. Both are active philanthropists and generous and keenly committed contributors to Promise. We spoke to David and Stacey about their family's experience with Winsor, and in particular their philosophy when it comes to giving.
Q: Could you tell us about what shapes your thinking when it comes to giving?
[David] When I was young, I attended boarding school, and then University, thanks to financial aid. My education was completely transformational, and when I look back and consider the opportunities it presented to me, there's no question it absolutely changed my life. I felt then—and still do today—that my education was a gift. Knowing this, and understanding how fortunate I was, has inspired me to work hard and make the most of it.
Incredibly, this extraordinary gift was given to me by people I didn't know, and who didn't know me. Still, these unknown people had my interests at heart, and even as I think about it today, it really represented an expression of generosity in its purest form: strangers helping strangers.
One year, during the Christmas holidays when I was at boarding school, I received my mail and found a personal letter addressed to me from someone whose name I didn't recognize. When I opened it, I found two things: a letter and a check for $200.
Both were from a fellow alumnus who had graduated nearly 100 years prior and who had endowed the scholarship I had been awarded. The letter simply told me to take the money, and enjoy the holidays by spending it in the way that would be meaningful to me. I literally couldn't believe it—back then, $200 was not an inconsequential amount of money to me, and as I held the check it crystallized something in me.
I decided that I was going to start giving back. I began to give to my school—$25 a year—even though I was on financial aid, working, and had taken out a loan to pay for my education.
[Stacey] When it came to my schooling, I benefitted, too, from the kindness of strangers. I put myself through college with the help of loans and scholarships. On top of that, I spent five days a week working at the local Sears to support myself.
Finally, and this is true for both of us, our parents always made a point of supporting our schools. They made it clear to us that this commitment and expression of gratitude were valuable well beyond the dollar amount.
While we have both been giving since we were in secondary school, when we found ourselves in a position to increase our giving, we realized we wanted to do two things—first, focus on education because of our firsthand experience, and second, maximize the impact we could have.
To us, philanthropy is in many ways one of the most powerful ideas one can commit to, precisely because while it is rooted in the desire to promote the welfare of others, it is in many ways blind, and operates on faith: the faith that what you're doing now has real power, in ways you might not even imagine, to change lives. This faith stems from the belief that if you make an investment in others' education, with the knowledge they have gained, they will be inspired in some way to give back to improve the lives of others.
Q: Education is a broad category, with no shortage of worthy causes.What led you to make Winsor a priority?
[Stacey] We see Winsor through related, but distinct, lenses, so there are actually two answers to that question.
First, I'm a parent who, like any parent, wants her daughter to be industrious, supported, challenged, and happy. We want her to find her place in a community with a diverse range of social, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and we want her to learn in a way that encourages creativity, curiosity, and a desire to excel.
Before applying, we thought very carefully and really benefitted from speaking to a number of people about Winsor, both families of current students, as well as those with daughters who had graduated years ago.
We received a long timeline of perspectives, and what struck us most was the sense of community that spanned, literally, generations. Winsor graduates are smart, reflective, confident and eloquent, and they've followed dozens of different paths (and made their own when there were no paths to follow). The kinship they felt as alumnae clearly lasted throughout their lives.
As a parent, then, to support an institution like Winsor in its mission to deliver such a rewarding and valuable experience to so many terrific young women, over such a significant period of time, is very compelling.
Q: And what's the "second" answer to this question?
[David] Continuing from where Stacey left off, I'll answer the second question. I'm a trustee and Stacey is a member of the Corporation, so we're also stewards of this community, and we have been significantly influenced by my fellow Trustees, past and present: Roger Servison, Bill Elfers, Jack Egan, Joe O'Donnell and Anne McNay. These trustees made it clear to us just how important Winsor's influence on their own daughters has been. Beyond a first-rate education, these are women who have forged lifelong relationships, and have the confidence and strong sense of character so prevalent within the Winsor community.
In addition, the O'Donnells, the Lubins, and all the Winsor families who contributed to building the Lubin O'Donnell Center really inspired us to get involved. Now, our daughter will be a direct beneficiary of the benevolence of these families in her eight years at the school, but a lot of the contributing families have daughters who have long since graduated.For us, their ongoing support for Winsor is inspiring, particularly because it is selfless.
In my professional life, I'm skeptical and fairly difficult to influence. At the same time, I value conviction. There's a difference between a sales pitch and belief. All the trustees believe deeply in Winsor as an institution, and in its mission.They're generous with their financial support, and they're also generous with their time, which speaks volumes to me.
When I joined the board, Joe O'Donnell became my mentor and helped familiarize me with the role and its responsibilities.
I'm going to vastly oversimplify here, but in both word and deed, Joe made clear to me his belief that our mission was about empowerment. We are giving our girls a world-class education, and an exceptionally honed set of critical thinking skills that is going to let them look anybody in the eye, hold their own in difficult situations, make complex and tough decisions, and in doing so be positioned to contribute to—if not change—the world. But if this is going to happen, we have to make certain Winsor always flourishes.
More succinctly, Winsor's charge is to transform the lives of its students—for the better—and our jobs are to make certain it can always do so.
When I look at Winsor, I see a deeply committed group of trustees who support the institution and, at the same time, trust the leadership we have in place to continue to make the right decisions when it comes to preparing our students to meet the challenges the world is going to present. This sense of duty to a shared and deeply important mission by all Winsor's stakeholders suggests to us the opportunity to have a long-term impact on these amazing young women.
Q: Given your role as parents and stewards, you've seen a lot of Winsor in a short period of time. How has Winsor exceeded your expectations?
[Stacey]There was no shortage of hand-wringing when it came to choosing schools, but we could tell early on that we had made the right choice for the most important constituent—our daughter.
At a very basic level, we were comfortable that Winsor, thanks to its reputation, could put her on an established and respected path. Where it has exceeded our expectations is that our daughter is being taught, daily, to identify and evaluate such paths for herself. It is the difference between learning, and learning how to learn.
She's invigorated by her teachers and her classmates, and sees before her fledgling artists, athletes, activists, mathematicians, musicians and scientists—sometimes all in the same person. She sees a dozen, maybe hundreds of paths before her, and knows she may choose any one she wants—or, if need be, make her own.
Q: Do you, as a family, have a favorite Winsor moment?
[Stacey]I think for David and me, the year-end conference with our daughter really crystalized a lot of what makes Winsor special for all of us.
When I was in grade school, at the end of the year, I was sent home with a report card, and then my parents went to the school, without me, and met with my teachers behind closed doors. It reinforced the impression that my education was something that was happening to me, rather than something I was actively participating in.
Therefore, for us to be invited to a presentation about our daughter's learning at the end of her first year at Winsor wasn't necessarily unexpected. What was extraordinary was that the presentation was being given by her.
We sat in the room, with her advisor, while our daughter told us about the different subjects she had studied, projects she had been involved in, what had challenged her, excited her, and ultimately, not only what progress she had made but the things she intended to focus on improving in the future. Her sense of accomplishment, and her sense of ownership of this experience—that this process of learning was uniquely hers—made us, honestly, really proud.
Later, during a direct conversation with her advisor, we saw how closely our daughter's experiences, and her perceptions of them, were aligned with her teachers'.It cemented our sense of community—that the institution, the leadership, the teachers, the process, and the girls were all facing the same direction.
The whole experience profoundly surfaced how invested everyone involved in our daughter's education was, which in turn translated into a deep sense of achievement for her. It confirmed that we had made the right choice for our family.
Q: You mentioned earlier that "maximizing impact" is a key component that guides your philanthropic decision-making.What lasting impact do you expect your contributions to Winsor will have?
[David]That's a tough question, because one of the most remarkable things about providing resources to young people is that they will always surprise you. Winsor girls are going to write books, cure diseases, start technology companies, and lead movements for change.They are alive with ideas.
When it comes to parents, there is probably nothing more incredible than watching your daughters grow—in their curiosity, their creativity, and their capacity to think and rethink about information presented to them.
As parents, Stacey and I know that our daughter will leave Winsor years from now as a far different, far better person. As stewards, we want to make sure we leave Winsor better off than when we began our service to the school.