Students and staff at Mercersburg Academy welcome $100M gift

ninth graders (from left) Morgan Steiner, Devon Stuzin, and Elizabeth Smilek show approval of the gift. Mercersburg Academy
ninth graders (from left) Morgan Steiner, Devon Stuzin, and Elizabeth Smilek show approval of the gift. Mercersburg Academy (Mercersburg Academy)
Posted: October 12, 2013

The rumor started flying through the hallways of central Pennsylvania's Mercersburg Academy even before the first bell rang out Thursday.

What began in hushed tones in the 120-year-old prep school grew in volume to shock and awe as it was confirmed that alumna Deborah Simon was on campus to announce a $100 million donation.

The present equaled the second-largest gift to a private secondary school in American history.

"It's exciting for sure," said Mike Sweeney, head of the math department.

The donation will go toward the $300 million Daring to Lead Campaign, aimed at making the $52,000-a-year boarding school more affordable for lower- and middle-income students. It will also fund more educational programs, teacher training, and off-campus experiences, said academic dean Julia Stojack Maurer.

"It allows us to fulfill our dreams," she said. "When you know you have the resources, the plans you can make are so amazing."

Teachers started hearing about the gift when they came to school, he said. Mercersburg's 300-acre campus is about 160 miles west of Philadelphia.

Then, at 12:30, the entire campus was called to an assembly in Simon Theater, which the Indianapolis philanthropist also funded, along with the school's Simon Student Center.

After an introduction by David Frantz, chairman of the board of regents, Simon, 57, who graduated in 1974 and is on the board, took the stage and announced the gift.

The audience erupted in applause and gave her a long standing ovation.

"I couldn't believe it. I was shaking," said Max Furigay, 17, a junior from Asheville, N.C. "The generosity and how much Ms. Simon cares about the school, it's really something."

Dikachi Osaji, a 17-year-old senior from Nigeria, was also stunned.

"We were like, wait, did she really say $100 million? I couldn't move for a while. You can't really fathom how much that is," she said.

After Simon's brief remarks, head of school Douglas Hale took the stage and said, "What does one say after an announcement like that? Thanks and thanks again."

Then he invited everyone to have cake and punch, and told the students they didn't have to go to fifth period classes. The crowd roared with applause for a second time.


kboccella@phillynews.com

610-313-8232

@kathyboccella

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