Last Saturday, the college announced a $20 million donation from Gil Kemp ’72 and Barbara Kemp. The gift, which will go towards financial aid, a new community space in Clothier Hall and achieving strategic planning goals in general, came largely as a result of Gil Kemp’s involvement with Swarthmore as chair for the Board of Managers.
“In the fall of 2014, around the sesquicentennial, we’re hoping to begin the public facet of what will be an ambitious campaign to realize the hopes and aspirations of the strategic planning process,” Kemp said. “Important in launching a campaign like this is to have the foundation, and it’s important for me as chair to help establish the campaign if I’m going to ask people to support it.”
The decision to allocate a large part of the donation, eight million dollars, to financial aid stemmed from both the college’s needs and the Kemps’ aspirations for Swarthmore to become need-blind for all of its students. According to Kemp, the strategic planning process saw expanding financial aid as a priority.
The money, which will be granted through a global leadership scholarship, focuses largely on drawing in more international students. The large increase in international students since Kemp’s graduation in 1972 demonstrates how Swarthmore has evolved into a global community. Kemp believes it is important to maintain this change.
“The fact that we are not need-blind for international students is something we need to remedy,” he said. “Financial aid is a great way to provide access to bring more terrific young men and women from throughout the world.”
According to President Rebecca Chopp, the focus on international students also surged from Kemp’s keen interest and involvement in international dealings through his business, Home Decorators Collection, which was purchased by the Home Depot in 2006.
“This was an opportunity to signal to admissions as well as financial aid our interest in making sure that international students have the same opportunity [Gil Kemp had when he traveled the world],” she said.
The scholarship won’t demand that students study in a certain field, but that they show a commitment to international issues.
“[Showing interest in global leadership] is going to be totally dependent on the student,” Chopp said. “Maybe it will be a student who has lived in Singapore or Brazil. It may also be a U.S. student who has done a lot of things with immigrants coming in.”
The remaining $12 million will go towards other strategic planning goals. Five million will aid the construction of a community space in Clothier Hall, which strategic planning surveys revealed is a pressing need for current students. According to Chopp, in fact, this part of the donation will be attended to first.
According to Kemp, financial aid and community spaces were important to him because they were important to the college.
“The fact that both of these initiatives were identified in the strategic planning process resonated with me. It happened to be things I believe in. I think more than my vision, it’s the vision of the college community collectively,” Kemp said.
Kemp, who still holds the college’s outdoor mile record at 4:15.5, also wrote for The Phoenix for four years, ran the student film society, and was active in student council. It is the wide array of experiences he had at Swarthmore that Kemp found rewarding and ultimately urged him to give back.
“I thought then and still do now that one of the wonderful things about Swarthmore is that you can try lots of different things,” he said. “I’m not sure I studied as much as I should have, but I loved having the opportunity to experience so much.”
It is for this reason that even a few years after graduating, Kemp had already made his first donation to the college.
“I went into publishing and I happened to receive a bonus that I hadn’t expected,” he said. “It was a delight to pay it forward and give back.”
Both Gil and Barbara Kemp have been and continue to be active in non-profits and community work. Their donation is only one of the ways in which they have been involved with Swarthmore and its future as a prestigious and accessible liberal arts college.