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Planned Giving

When Did You Decide to Include K in Your Estate Plans?

Gail Griffin

Gail Griffin

By Gail Griffin, Professor of English Emerita

This question came from a close friend a few weeks ago. I thought for a minute and shook my head. "I can't remember making a/the decision. I think it was always clear to me. I just never thought about it."

This could mean one of two things:

  1. I am a remarkably undisciplined financial planner.
  2. K is so embedded in me that making it part of my estate plans was a given.

OK, maybe No. 1 has some validity, but No. 2 is definitely true. I know I can't expect every member of the extended, global Kalamazoo College community to have the deeply embedded experience of the College that I had over 36 years in the English department. But I have noticed that K tends to leave an unusually sharp imprint on people.

I've seen it in many colleagues who talk about the College not just as an employer, but as a common cause, a shared value system, a mutual project. I've seen it in fellow retirees who keep on regarding the College with anything ranging from affectionate pride and high hopes to possessive investment in the direction of the institution. I've seen it in students who, by the time they're seniors, talk like they own the place. And I've seen myriad versions of the K imprint in alums: their sharp critical thinking (always attributed to their K years), their wildly original wit (making for a wonderful Facebook experience), their global awareness, their outrage at injustice, their compassion, their ongoing pride in and curiosity about the College.

So possibly some of you can understand why, for me, making financial plans that include the College was a no-brainer. But if I actually use my brain, I can come up with a number of good reasons to have made the non-decision I made.

Here's one: There's a card I used to play regularly in discussions with prospective students and their parents: I would tell them where I went to school and then say I wished I'd gone to K. Watching them lean in at that moment was gratifying. I went to two superb, relatively small universities, one private, one public. I know I got a fine education. But within a short time of my arrival on campus in 1977, I knew that I would have been much better off at K.

I can still feel the absence in my life of what K would have given me: the attention of remarkably dedicated faculty entirely focused on undergraduate development; small classes where I would have found my voice earlier; easily accessible campus activities and groups; a sophisticated study abroad experience where I might have maintained my Spanish; the achievement of planning and executing an independent project that would have better prepared me for graduate study. I might not have let choral music slip out of my life out of anxiety about a big, separate music school. I might even have become the creative writer I ultimately became, after a few years of working with Con Hilberry and Diane Seuss. The upshot is that I want to express my profound gratitude in a way that will help K continue to offer to others the kind of personal evolution I went through and watched hundreds of students undergo on the Arcadian Hill.

Here's another reason: The landscape of U.S. higher education is changing swiftly. The climate presents formidable obstacles to the project of liberal arts education. I still believe in that project, and I believe in the place where I came to understand the liberal arts. I want it to continue to flourish to its bicentennial in 2033 and beyond.

The more the world wants to talk about training young people for specific jobs, the more I want to talk about nourishing the ability to analyze issues, sort truth claims, write expressively, explore unknown realms within and around themselves, and understand their lives in the wide context of human experience. My gift to K is my way of pushing back.

And here's a third: When I arrived at K, the student body was overwhelmingly white, middle-class and Midwestern. In this respect it is now a totally different place, much more reflective of the United States and the larger globe. This year 32.8 percent of the students identify as domestic students of color—up from less than 15 percent only 10 years ago. The proportion of international students is likewise way up, reflecting K's global outlook. Nearly 18 percent of today's students will be the first in their families to graduate from college. Many more are coming from economically challenged backgrounds. Ninety-eight percent of K students receive some kind of financial aid. This year approximately $39 million of that aid is being funded by K's annual operating budget, representing about 44% of the College's total budgeted revenue.

Today's K students are a wondrous, varied group, busy educating each other as they are educated. Their needs—cultural, curricular, financial, personal—are more diverse than ever. I am tremendously proud of what the College has done to open its doors to the students of the 21st century. In writing K into my estate plans, I'm thinking about students coming from backgrounds very different from my own, who deserve everything K has to offer.

Finally, there's this: A college is a unique ecosystem. Every four years the student body is entirely different (assuming that everybody finishes their SIP). Administrative officials come and go. It's a college's faculty that tends to provide continuity and stability. The tenure system may have its liabilities, but it makes possible the kind of long career in one place that I had. Longevity makes faculty members think and care about the long-term life of the institution. I want to support the exciting young faculty who are charged with making sure that K goes on being K.

So if I can't remember when I decided to work the College into my estate plans, I'm at least very clear about why. Lux Esto!

If you would like to leave a lasting legacy at K like Gail did, please reach out to Andy Miller at or 269.337.7327 to start the conversation.

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