An Investment, Not a Giveaway
Talk about putting stock in a good education. This year alone, Shelby M.C. and Gale Davis spent $15 million on college tuition and fees to send 312 students from all over the world to American colleges and universities. Add their earlier gifts to those same students' secondary schools, the United World Colleges, and the family, which includes Colby trustee Andrew Davis '85, has given more than $100 million to support international education in the last six years.
At Colby, one of five pilot sites for the Davis United World College Program, the Davises paid the full financial aid, sometimes called the calculated financial need, for 93 students,more than 5 percent of the student body. None of the Davis UWC scholars is related to the family, and Shelby Davis says he doesn't expect a nickel back after the students graduate.
Many of the Davis UWC scholars had very limited options for post-secondary education before the family started the scholarships in 2000. The effect of the program on individual scholars is, not surprisingly, enormous, and the impact of those students on the Colby community, in classes and out, is dramatic beyond expectations.
"This kind of diversity has effects on individual students that will have consequences down the road, on the lives they lead and the aspirations they find within themselves," said President William Adams, quoted in a Davis UWC scholars' yearbook. "Wherever they end up, these students will be different. Our American students will be different too."
To Shelby Davis, who received an honorary degree from Colby this spring, the poignant stories of opportunities seized and the students' (and professors') heartfelt expressions of gratitude for the program are but a prelude. Focused on the long term, he expects nothing less than to improve international relations and, perhaps, change the course of history,in his own phrase, "to move the world."
"We have a saying in our family," Davis said at the pre-commencement dinner in May. "The first thirty years of your life should be to learn. The next thirty years is to earn. And the last thirty years of your life should be to return, to give back, to make the world better.
"What I'm not doing is giving scholarships and money away," he told the appreciative Colby audience. "What I am doing is investing in the future."
Davis is a man who knows investing. He made his fortune as the founder of Davis Selected Advisers, a mutual fund and money management company that now has $40 billion under management. His study of history, at Princeton, taught him that extraordinary leaders influence history,a nugget he decided to apply on Wall Street, he explained. "What I learned there [in school] wasn't so stupid." He developed a strategy based on finding exceptional corporate leaders and backing their companies as he assembled stock portfolios. Davis Selected Advisers prospered.
His extraordinarily successful earning years were informed by his learning, and when it came time to think about returning, he adapted his theory of leadership again. "I was looking for leaders for the next century and I found them in this program," he said.
The Davis UWC scholarships are a generous financial commitment and a powerful lever to change the world for the better, but they are, in one sense, an afterthought,an outgrowth of the Davises' support for the United World Colleges themselves.
Davis traced it all back to his first visit to the UWC in Montezuma, N.M., in 1998. He arrived early, encountered two boys sitting by the pool talking and asked them if they were students. It turned out one was from Israel, the other from Palestine. "We're roommates here," one told him, "and we are friends,and this could never happen in our country," Davis recalls hearing.
The more he learned about the UWC program, which mixes students from all over the world for a two-year International Baccalaureate (IB) secondary school program, the better he liked it. "In Jordan three thousand students applied last year, and six made it," he said at Colby, to show the caliber of the students UWC selects. The more UWC students he got to know and the more unlikely cross-cultural friendships he observed, the more impressed he became
"That's when it hit me. This was the thing to do."
With the success of the pilot Davis UWC Scholars program at Colby, Princeton, College of the Atlantic, Wellesley and Middlebury, Davis plans to expand the program to perhaps 50 colleges and he envisions as many as 1,000 Davis UWC Scholars in the near future. He insists that his is "an open-ended commitment."
Reaction to Davis's initiatives was best summed up following his two appearances during Commencement weekend. After he spoke at the dinner, trustees, faculty and administrators gave him an enthusiastic,and a noticeably extended,standing ovation, an honor matched the next morning when the same group plus students and parents saluted him as he received an honorary doctor of laws degree.
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