Giving Thanks

September 21, 2021

Students and staff celebrating the first in-person Day of Thanks at locations on Page Terrace and MBU's Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences.

Dozens of students exited morning classes and flocked toward the array of tents, tables, and decorations setup along Page Terrace. Staffers in bright #MBUFamily t-shirts greeted them as Baldwin the Fighting Squirrel and Gladys danced to tunes playing through a PA system. The future alumni gathered around tables lined with Mary Baldwin swag and hung with colorful, university-themed posters, balloons, and banners that read “Day of Thanks.”

Faculty and staff volunteers welcomed them and struck up conversations about the generosity of philanthropic donors, and what this support means for students and the university. 

Students and staff celebrating the first in-person Day of Thanks at locations on Page Terrace and MBU's Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences.

“I’d seen the names on buildings, or in relation to this or that program, but I never made the connection they belonged to an actual person, much less someone that loved this place and had a special experience here,” said first-year student Shyann Jordan ’25, a math major. “Before today, I hadn’t really thought about the degree to which [these gifts] directly benefit my experience [at MBU].”

MBU’s loyal donors gave $1.8 million to support the university’s commitment to fostering critical creative thinkers, changemakers, and empowered citizens within the student community in 2020. Last March, an all-time record number of alumni and friends rallied together to raise more than $408,000 during the university’s annual Day of Giving: A Day to Lead the Way

“When you realize that so many of these donors were once students like us, it makes you feel like you’re part of a much larger community,” said doctor of physical therapy candidate Zach Canova ’23, who participated in the day’s event in the atrium of MBU’s Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences in Fishersville. That knowledge begets pride and gratitude. 

“I think about the amazing experiences I’ve had at MBU, of all the great friends and professors I’ve met — it’s just absolutely changed my life,” Canova continued. Knowing he attends classes in a program and building that exists because of a $15 million founding gift from Bertie Murphy Deming Smith ’46 in 2011? 

“I can’t express how grateful I am to have this opportunity and to be a part of [this school’s] legacy,” said Canova. “I think about what I’d like to achieve in the future, and I sincerely hope that one day I’ll be in a position to pay it forward to the next generation.”

Students on Page Terrace were asked to consider the campus’s beautiful historic buildings, stairwells, sculptures, and the very bricks they stood upon. They were encouraged to imagine the thousands of students that, like them, laughed and learned here in the past. So much of MBU’s 180 years of traditions and legacy would’ve been impossible without the generous support of alumni and friends of the university.

Such reflections lay at the core of the Day of Thanks celebration. 

“I can’t express how grateful I am to have this opportunity and to be a part of the legacy of Mary Baldwin University. I think about what I’d like to achieve in the future, and I sincerely hope that one day I’ll be in a position to pay it forward to the next generation.”
Zach Canova ’23, doctor of physical therapy program

“When you realize the amount of money some of these people have given over the years, it makes you sort of feel like they’re in your corner, cheering you on,” said Casey Cook ’24, a student in the occupational therapy doctoral program. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘I believe in you! I know you’re going to achieve success and carry on this legacy!’”   

Like Canova, Cook understood the impulse to give back. The Danville native quickly fell in love with MBU’s beautiful location in the Shenandoah Valley, small class sizes, caring professors, and the talented, intellectually inquisitive classmates she’s sure will become lifelong friends. When she reflects on her decision to pursue graduate studies at Mary Baldwin vs. a larger state school, she knows she made the right choice.  

“There’s something so special about this place,” said Cook. Fellow students “really care about you; they support you and push you to be better. And that’s true for professors as well. I have no doubt that we’ll stay in touch, and that they’ll be there to help me through every step of my career.” 

Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations Amy Davenport spearheaded planning for the event. She called the first in-person Day of Thanks an “enormous success.” 

“Our goal was to offer donors a window into the transformational opportunities their gifts can provide to students, by giving students the opportunity to directly share their thanks through handwritten notes and video messages,” she said. It was exciting to see students “sharing such sincere, personal stories of gratitude and reflecting on the myriad ways these gifts have positively impacted their MBU journey.”