Column: My 20 dollars and 13 cents

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in journalism school at Northeastern is never to ignore a phone call. It could be a source reaching out to me or an editor with a job offer or any number of other things that will keep my career rolling forward. But last night when I got two calls back-to-back from 617-373-3760, a number I didn’t have programmed into my phone, I let it ring.

The person at the other end was likely some poor freshman in need of some extra cash who signed up to call seniors and alumni on behalf of the university to try to get us to pay even more money.

Hell no, I’m not giving to the senior gift.

I can understand why Richard D’Amore and Alan McKim would give millions of dollars to Northeastern. The two were phenomenally successful in business, in part, because of the lessons and connections offered during their time here. I applaud them for their success, and for their donation given with the intent of offering those same lucrative opportunities to current and future students.

Seniors, however, haven’t had the chance to be phenomenally successful. I, for example, am going to leave Northeastern after shelling out something in the neighborhood of $200,000. I am incredibly lucky to have had some members of my extended family save for college for my education, so I’ll leave with just over $17,000 in loans. I’m also lucky to have lined up a part-time job in the journalism field that will cover my rent. Otherwise, I’m left in need of grocery money, transportation, emergency funds – literally every expense in life other than a roof over my head. Yet Northeastern University is asking me to pay for, as our Senior Gift Drive Chair so eloquently stated it on this page, “the opportunities and experiences that we’ve had.”

I guess my $200,000 didn’t pay for opportunity and experience. Just bland cheeseburgers, flat screen TVs and a million-dollar salary for President Joseph E. Aoun.

Now all this is not to say I’ll never give any more money to the university. Maybe down the road I’ll get a major promotion or sign a book deal and think “I would never have reached this point without the opportunities and experiences so wonderfully provided to me by the swell folks at Northeastern University,” and decide to give some of that money to them. But right now – as I face the choice between bartending class and sending another article proposal to an editor who may or may not delete it without reading – is not the time to ask me for $20.13, the gag-inducingly cutsie number the Gift Drive is hoping to “obtain” me with.

Maybe I’m the exception. Perhaps some of my friends, the ones whose families didn’t save and who have $200,000 in loans that they can hope to pay back before pamphlets for nursing homes start coming in the mail, will want to give $20.13. They definitely wouldn’t want to pay $20.13 against one of their loans. Loans don’t pay for opportunity and experience, remember?

So best of luck, Gift Drive Chair Sarah Leahy, “obtaining” 2,100 of my classmates to give a collective $42,273 to a school that they’ve already paid five times that amount to. I’m sure they’ve got some spare cash just lying around.

– Taylor Dobbs can be reached at

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