Honoring Philanthropy, Not Funds
This year, Shelby M.C. Davis ’54 GP ’07 ’15 ’18, distinguished philanthropist and founder of Davis Selected Advisors, returned to Lawrenceville to receive the Aldo Leopold Award, also known as the Lawrenceville Medal. At school meeting on January 17, he spoke about his journey after Lawrenceville and shared practical experiences that we will face in the real world—bursting the Lawrenceville bubble, in effect.
This year, Shelby M.C. Davis ’54 GP ’07 ’15 ’18, distinguished philanthropist and founder of Davis Selected Advisors, returned to Lawrenceville to receive the Aldo Leopold Award, also known as the Lawrenceville Medal. At school meeting on January 17, he spoke about his journey after Lawrenceville and shared practical experiences that we will face in the real world—bursting the Lawrenceville bubble, in effect. While he may not have addressed his philanthropy in great length in his speech, Shelby Davis is still an incredibly deserving recipient of the Aldo Leopold Award because of his prolific philanthropic record and his message to better ourselves through learning in the first 30 years of our life, working and earning money in the second 30 so that we can return money to the community and be an agent for positive change in our final 30 years.
One of the main complaints about Mr. Davis’s selection from an article published in the January 25 issue of The Lawrence was that he placed too much value on earning money and that the School should not honor someone who appears to prioritize that. But because his speech did focus largely on earning money, many fail to recognize that he has done far more than just that— he has been the agent for positive social change.
Let’s look at the work that Mr. Davis has done: He founded the Davis United World College (UWC) Scholars Program in 2000 with the goal of “[advancing] international understanding through education” by providing scholarships to international students who attend U.S. colleges and universities. By offering promising students from many different backgrounds and cultures the best educational opportunities, Davis helps create a strong global community and promotes the growth of American schools and universities with the presence of a diverse and globally engaged student body. Furthermore, Mr. Davis is the single largest donor to international education. Both of these items clearly qualify as working toward social change. Regardless of the contents of his speech, we should be able to admire his hard work and good fortune without painting him as money hungry and taking away from all the virtuous work he has done.
I do concede that Mr. Davis could have spoken about his philanthropy in greater length in his speech, as he did not spend the majority of his time talking about the scholarships, nor did he mention his environmental work. But he prefaced the speech by saying he has “had two careers, one in business and one in philanthropy” before going on to speak about developing good habits that he believed would be useful to us in our lives after Lawrenceville. He tried to impart to us the message that his parents instilled in him of using one’s good fortune to give back to the community, which culminated in an overview of his philanthropic work and the Davis UWC Scholars Program at the end of the speech. It is paramount that we do not forget the issues of racism, sexual harassment, terrorism, etc., but we can only honor one person a year, and there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Davis’s causes of education and environmentalism are righteous enough for him to receive the award. Another concern with the speech was that he does not care about the students and simply provides money to the program. Here, it is important to realize, firstly, that there are close to 10,000 scholars in the program and the number is only growing, so it would be impossible for him to choose from the tens of thousands of students who apply. Second: The program is not designed for him to choose the students, the admissions departments of the selected schools do that work. And third: Since when does not knowing exactly how your money is used make your work less admirable? It is unfair to claim that because of this he is less deserving of praise than someone who serves their community with a more hands-on approach, especially because the scale that he is able to achieve by donating the money far exceeds what he would be able to do handpicking the recipients.
To say that selecting Mr. Davis shows that the School values money over the mission to “challenge a diverse community of promising young people to lead lives of learning, integrity, and high purpose” is to ignore the life of learning, integrity, and high purpose that he has led. He has done far more than simply obtain money—he is doing his part to create a globally accepting community and is tearing down barriers by bringing multitudes of international students into America. And if his work has not made his values clear enough, it is worth noting that he closed his speech by saying his philanthropic work “is the best thing [he’s] ever done.” I certainly hope that the views of our school and Mr. Davis align, because if we can be half as successful as he was in his endeavors, we would make the world an immensely better place. So with that, I ask: who better to award the Lawrenceville Medal to in order to instill the value of giving back and inspire us to make a difference than one of the greatest philanthropists of our time?