A Stranger Gave Me $45,000

31 Dec

In 2004, someone I don’t know just gave me $45,000. I didn’t expect it. I didn’t even ask for it. In truth, I didn’t do anything special to deserve it. Here is what happened.

At the time, I was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. I was extremely active with extracurriculars….student council president, editor of school paper, school tour guide, class marshall, etc….blah, blah, blah…the point is I was everywhere. Call it an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or pure boredom; I was just trying to make things better. One day in the late spring of 2004, I walked down to my student mailbox and pulled out an envelope with my name on it. Typed out on 8.5 X 11 paper in 12-point Times New Roman font, there was a letter…


I still have the letter hanging in my office.


May 5, 2004

Dear Chris –

I hope you do not think it presumptuous on my part, however I wanted to let you know that I have taken the liberty of providing for assistance toward your tuition and certain other living expenses associated with your last year as a Master of Divinity student at HDS [Harvard Divinity School].

I feel truly blessed with this opportunity to be of some assistance to you as you prepare for the journey ahead. In return, my only wish is that upon graduation you will consider channeling your vast potential in a way that can help relieve the pain and suffering of others, particularly those in the more disadvantaged layers of our society.

In the meantime, please accept my best wishes for the highest measure of success and fulfillment now and for the years ahead.

I remain forever,

A Friend

Please make an appointment with Bob Coughlin, Coordinator of Financial Aid, at your earliest convenience in order that your grant award can be finalized.

Now, I didn’t really pay much attention to the letter when I read it. I didn’t know if it was a joke or really what it even meant. Luckily, my journey to find answers ended just upstairs in the financial aid office. I entered, asked to see Bob Coughlin, and sat down in his office. Bob then explained to me that someone, he could not reveal who, had paid for my last year of tuition at Harvard. In addition, this person included a sizable stipend for living expenses on top of that tuition. I was floored. Never in my life have I felt that emotion. It was a mixture of pride and embarrassment. The total award came to a little over $45,000. Just handed to me with the hope that I would channel my potential to relieving the pain and suffering of others. It’s quite an expectation to put on an ambitious Harvard student, but it remains a guiding light for me.

As I walk forward into 2013, I’m reminded of all those who have helped me along my path. Thank you.

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