UofM alumni George and Betty Johnson commit $1M to endow Senior Class Gift Program

Sept. 15, 2021 — University of Memphis alumni and longtime supporters George (BBA ’70) and Betty (MEd ’75) Johnson recently committed $1M to endow the Senior Class Gift program. The program was created by the Johnsons in 2015 as a “class project” to encourage seniors to become UofM donors while they are still students.

“I was familiar with similar programs at other colleges,” said George Johnson. “I wanted to find a way to inspire our seniors to give back in a meaningful way. I’m amazed at how quickly the program has become a part of the fabric of the UofM senior-year experience. Betty and I wanted to encourage the continuity of the program through our gift.”

Since its establishment, the Senior Class Gift program has grown exponentially. Last year, 923 students from both the UofM’s Central and Lambuth campuses contributed to the fund, which began with just 238 student donors in the first year. The funds are matched by the Johnsons to establish at least one four-year academic scholarship and additional book scholarships so that deserving students with a financial need can attend the UofM.

“Each year, we are ecstatic to see an increase in the number of UofM seniors who are willing to contribute to the Senior Class Gift Program,” said LaGerra Williams, manager of Annual Giving at the University of Memphis. “Despite the challenges we know students faced over the past year, we were able to have a record-breaking number of students rally together to support fellow Tigers in such a meaningful and impactful way. These seniors are leaving a legacy of opportunity for the students who come after them.” 

Over the past six years, 4,189 seniors have given to the program. The proceeds of their donations have benefited 16 UofM and UofM Lambuth students with academic and book scholarships. Each academic scholarship recipient is an incoming freshman chosen by a selection committee with a high school GPA of 3.25 or above and a demonstrated financial need. The award is automatically renewed when recipients are full-time students in good academic standing. Scholarships range from $500 for a book scholarship to more than $5,000 for an academic scholarship.

"The news of the generous contribution made to the Senior Class Gift program further affirms the sense of community and pride that the University of Memphis fosters,” said UofM Student Government Association president Matthew White. “We have the ability to do so much because of the generosity of our alumni that are still deeply embedded in our community. The senior class gift program is significant because it encourages graduating seniors to continue their involvement with the University post-graduation. It is admirable that seniors can look beyond themselves to invest in future Tigers."

The endowment established by the Johnsons will support the Senior Class Gift program in perpetuity to ensure that the funds donated by future generations of Tigers are matched, dollar for dollar, to support other students.

Seniors are encouraged to give in honor of their graduation year, i.e. the Class of 2021 gave $20.21, but no matter the size, each gift is matched, and the senior is rewarded for their participation. Every spring, students who support the program are honored during one of the luncheons held at the Central Campus and the Lambuth Campus. Students also receive a commemorative graduation stole for their support.