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BOSTON—Hundreds of alumni, students, and faculty members vied for standing room in the School of Public Health’s cafeteria here Monday afternoon, as top University officials formally unveiled the largest single gift in University history and honored its catalyst, alumnus Gerald L. Chan.
The announcement, including recognition that the school will be renamed in honor of Chan’s late father, T.H. Chan, was met with a standing ovation. A series of speeches and videos accompanying the unveiling framed the gift, valued at $350 million, as the cornerstone of the 100-year-old school’s second century.
Speaking at length, University President Drew G. Faust praised the pledge as “transformative” and outlined the new opportunities it will help generate for attacking problems such as the obesity epidemic, preventable diseases, and HIV/AIDS.
“This gift will inspire the next generation of public health students who will in turn be the following generation’s public health leaders and advocates,” Faust said. She added that undergraduates are equally energized by the field and have made “Global Health and Health Policy” the most popular secondary at the College.
“It tells the world that this is a public health moment, and it challenges Harvard to meet the moment by opening its doors wider, reaching deeper and farther, taking risks in pursuit of new answers and new solutions,” Faust said.
HSPH Dean Julio Frenk echoed Faust’s statements in his own speech and in an interview after the ceremony, reflecting on the school’s history and envisioning its future.
“This was a magical moment for the school,” Frenk said in the interview. “[The gift] makes a statement in the confidence of the future of public health.”
The $350 million pledge was made public shortly after midnight Monday and immediately captured the attention of national media. Though Chan has been the face of the gift, the funds come from the Morningside Foundation, his family’s philanthropic arm. The money will be added to the school’s existing $1.1 billion endowment for annual distribution.
Frenk detailed some of the initiatives that the donation will make possible in his speech. He said that HSPH hopes to offer a loan forgiveness program so students can afford to work in underserved communities in the United States and around the globe. In addition, Frenk said the donation will make possible innovative research projects, educational resources, and big data initiatives.
Chan, whose family has made billions in real estate and venture capital, followed Frenk and Faust to the stage. His roughly ten-minute address traced the motivations behind his generosity to the school, where he earned a master’s and Ph.D., and detailed his family’s values. The gift, he said, represents a mixing of his mother's commitment to disease prevention and his father's focus on education.
Chan said his mother, who in the 1950s was a nurse in a British hospital in northern China, led the hospital’s efforts to improve sanitation and hygiene and would frequently administer vaccines out of the family’s kitchen in Hong Kong, where they later lived.
He said his father, after whom the school will now be named, financially supported many Hong Kongese students studying abroad for their tertiary education who would not have been able to otherwise.
“His actions were powerful examples—it is most fitting that a school should be a part of his legacy,” Chan said.
Chan concluded by offering a personal motto: “Return is not only measured in financial terms but also in human lives and health.”
Chan’s message was received enthusiastically by the crowd, which included University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 and members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers—the University’s highest governing bodies. Chan’s mother and other family members were also in attendance.
Garber, speaking in an interview after the ceremony, stressed the importance of the gift given recent high-profile threats to public health worldwide.
“I couldn’t be happier about who’s giving the gift [and] the purpose the gift is being given for, which will not only strengthen Harvard’s School of Public Health but public health as an activity throughout the world,” Garber said. “The timing couldn’t be any greater.”
Students on hand said that the gift is already serving to energize the school.
“There is a lot of hope in the air, and students are looking forward to the next 101 years,” said Pratik Panchal, a student at the HSPH’s Master of Public Health Program.
—Staff writer Amna H. Hashmi can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amna_hashmi.
—Staff writer Steven H. Tenzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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