April 24, 2015
Class of 2015 members Geena Yu, Graham Williams and Ryan Feder work on fundraising for a class gift, which had achieved 60 percent participation and counting as of late April.
Small talk among third-year Tulane Law students quickly spiraled this spring into something they never expected: an unprecedented class gift that also sets a new standard for future graduates.
By late April, the Class of 2015 had raised more than $12,600, with 60 percent of the 228 JD candidates donating to a campaign that launched in February right after Mardi Gras. Members of the Dean’s Advisory Board pledged a matching $10,000, resulting in a parting gift of more than $22,600 designated entirely for student scholarships.
“I’m amazed by the amount of money we were able to raise in such a short time,” said fundraising team member Alex Fleszar, who’s active on the moot court board and the Domestic Violence Clinic. She called fellow students’ reaction to the effort “overwhelmingly positive.”
It started with Student Bar Association President Graham Williams and Tulane Law Review Editor Alston Walker lamenting Tulane being underappreciated despite the quality of education available. Instead of just grousing, they contacted the development staff and assembled a diverse team of 21 Class of 2015 members across the spectrum of student activities.
They began contacting fellow students, asking them directly in hallway conversations, courtyard encounters and at a foyer table set up during a designated giving week.
Williams, who learned about intense school loyalty at Jesuit High School of New Orleans and the University of Virginia, said that “many schools will tout their class gift as a proxy for how much graduates value their education.”
The fundraising effort focused on scholarships because “that’s something everyone could get behind,” he said, and “a number of us have benefitted from the generosity of previous donors.”
Fleszar said, “I don’t know that I would have been able to go to law school without a scholarship.” After graduation, she’ll be working for the Department of Justice’s Immigration Office through the agency’s Honors Program.
Williams said that one of his goals as SBA president has been to promote brand loyalty to Tulane. The class gift meshes with that because a donation of any amount signifies “literally buying in to the improvement of our school.”
Williams, who is set to start work on commercial litigation at Adams and Reese upon graduation, said Tulane “plays such an important role in the city of New Orleans. Any way that I can influence and improve Tulane is a way to improve the city of New Orleans.”
The project has quickly had reverberations. Several students in the Class of 2016 already have agreed to lead a fundraising challenge for their 3L year. And organizers of the 50th reunion for the Class of 1965, whose members will be honored at the law school’s Commencement Diploma Ceremony in May, challenged their classmates to collectively raise at least $50,000.
Dean’s Advisory Board member R. King Milling (L ’65) applauded the initiative of the graduating class.
“Helping to assure the continued excellence in legal education is an obligation of graduates,” said Milling, an attorney, former longtime president of Whitney Bank and now Chairman of the America’s WETLAND Foundation. “We have benefitted so much over the years, and witnessing the effort undertaken by the Class of 2015 should be an inspiration for all of us to try to do something, particularly on the occasion of our 50th reunion.”
Walker, who also received his bachelor’s degree from Tulane, said that “The bigger picture is to fundamentally change what it means to be a Tulane graduate. It’s not just about writing checks; it’s about extending the Tulane family beyond these walls. The participation is a signal of your willingness to stay engaged with Tulane Law for years to come.”
Walker has secured a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Foote in Shreveport, then he’ll practice securities litigation for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Houston.
Treb Winegar, the law school’s senior director of development, called the Class of 2015 members pioneers in creating a new culture of philanthropy at Tulane.
“These students have done something truly remarkable, taking the future of their school and the value of their degrees into their own hands,” he said. “We’re talking about it with every alum we meet, and it is generating a great deal of excitement. These students are leaders not only of their class, but leaders for the entire alumni population. They have already achieved what no other Tulane Law class has during their time in law school, but I know it is their hope that those who follow behind them will outdo them.”