By Peter Rooney

Two Amherst graduates have pledged separate gifts of $100 million and $25 million to their alma mater, the college announced on Nov. 3. The two gifts are the largest in the history of Amherst College, and the $100 million pledge is believed to be the largest unrestricted cash gift ever to a liberal arts college.

The gifts are intended to support the college’s ongoing efforts to provide the finest possible undergraduate education and access to it, and to maintain Amherst’s standing as the most selective and the most diverse liberal arts college, says President Anthony W. Marx.

“In a difficult economic moment, when institutions and individuals have fewer resources,” Marx says, “these unrestricted gifts to the endowment represent extraordinary votes of support for Amherst College, and for the mission of educational quality and access at liberal arts colleges in general.”

Both donors have decided to remain anonymous, preferring that the focus of their gifts be on the college rather than on themselves, Marx says.

“They are grateful for the opportunities that an Amherst College education has provided them and remain inspired by the values the college holds dear,” Marx says. “They hope that their gifts will inspire other alumni to come forward and help ensure that future generations will benefit from an Amherst College education as well.”

The two donors released statements that help to explain their motivation. “I make this gift in recognition of the unique education I received at Amherst,” said the donor of the $100 million gift, “and as an expression of support of Amherst College’s mission. I hope other alumni will be inspired to further support the college at a time when the economy is stressing the resources of all higher educational institutions. Amherst is a jewel of enlightenment, social mobility based on talent, and preparation for leadership that we must all maintain.”

The donor of the $25 million gift expressed a similar sentiment, saying: “This gift is to support Amherst College’s commitment to providing the finest quality undergraduate education, and to provide access to students of extraordinary potential, regardless of their ability to pay, enabling them to lead the lives of consequence to which we all aspire.”

Both pledges, each to be paid over five years, will provide unrestricted operating support for the college. Marx said he was humbled by the donors’ faith in the college and its trustees to allocate the resources where they are most needed, including to enhancing financial aid, broadening access for high-achieving students; hiring more faculty and improving faculty resources and support; fostering modern and interdisciplinary approaches to education; building alumni relationships in order to enhance opportunities for student research, internships and service; and renovating and constructing campus buildings.

In October 2008, against a backdrop of declining equity markets, rising unemployment and growing unease about the economy, the college launched a comprehensive campaign, Lives of Consequence, that seeks to raise $425 million.

“There are those who have said we could not have picked a worse time for a capital campaign, but look what has happened,” says Board of Trustees Chairman Jide Zeitlin ’85. “These incredibly generous gifts are a stunning affirmation of the belief and support that these donors have for the mission and values of Amherst College, even during this challenging economic environment. It is my hope that other alumni will be inspired to do whatever they can to help support the college and its mission during these difficult times.”

Before the formal launch of the Lives of Consequence campaign, fundraising had been proceeding during the campaign’s quiet phase for almost two years. The $100 million and the $25 million gifts are among seven commitments that comprise $206 million of the $350 million that the campaign has raised to date.

“I have been reassured and moved by the incredible support and number of gifts that have come in to the college,” Marx says. “Going forward, we will rely on commitments of all sizes to reach our campaign goal and ensure the college’s ability to preserve and strengthen its core values of academic excellence and accessibility to the most promising of students, regardless of their ability to pay.”

In a letter sent to Amherst alumni and parents, Marx described the gifts as “profound endorsements of the work we do on this campus and the transformational education we have provided to generations of students.” In addition, the gifts are “a tribute to our graduates,” he wrote, “and the lives of consequence they lead in the world.”