WALLA WALLA, Wash. — News of philanthropist MacKenzie Scott’s gift to the Walla Walla Community College Foundation reverberated throughout the region on Tuesday night.
On Wednesday, the magnitude of that donation became clear when the foundation announced that Scott — who describes herself modestly as “mom, writer, advocate” after divorcing Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos — pledged $15 million to the two-year college.
Jessica Cook, executive director of the WWCC Foundation, wrote in a letter to the college’s retirees and donors, “I have a truly incredible announcement to share and, to be honest, this is something I never expected to be writing.”
It is the largest individual donation in the 53-year history of the school, Cook said.
“In the coming weeks and months, our plan is to work closely with the college and to take the time necessary to make thoughtful decisions about how we will invest these dollars,” Cook wrote.
Tim Donahue, director of winemaking and instructor at the school’s Institute for Enology and Viticulture, said his reaction to the news began with “WOW!”
He echoed the foundation’s comments that there is much to be learned about the donation by Scott and how it might — or might not — trickle down to award-winning College Cellars and the storied winemaking program.
“I’m still sending her wine!” Donahue quipped.
Donahue applauds work by WWCC grant writers
The total of Tuesday’s giving by Scott was reportedly $4.1 billion, and Donahue credited work by Walla Walla Community College grant writers for becoming one of the 384 institutions and organizations nationwide selected by Scott and her team.
“For a community college like us, this is HUGE,” Donahue said.
It is one of five organizations in Washington state to receive a gift from the country’s wealthiest woman and the only school in the Northwest to be named as a recipient. Several non-profit agencies in the Puget Sound area were among the 116 to receive funds as part of Scott’s first pledge, amounting to $1.7 billion, announced on July 28, 2020.
Scott, 50, who grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from Princeton with honors and a degree in English, first outlined her plans for philanthropy on May 25, 2019 via GivingPledge.org, an organization launched in 2010 by Seattle’s Bill and Melinda Gates along with Warren Buffett. It has grown its membership from 40 individuals in the United States to more than 200 throughout 24 countries.
Easterseals affiliates in Washington state and throughout the U.S. — more than 20 — were spotlighted by Scott in the announcement on her blog. She also selected several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and scores of individual chapters of the United Way, Goodwill, food banks, Meals on Wheels programs, YMCA and YWCA. Her Ivy League alma mater in New Jersey was not listed in Tuesday’s announcement, which she published on Medium.com.
This past summer, Scott noted, “Last year I pledged to give the majority of my wealth back to the society that helped generate it, to do it thoughtfully, to get started soon, and to keep at it until the safe is empty. There’s no question in my mind that anyone’s personal wealth is the product of a collective effort, and of social structures which present opportunities to some people, and obstacles to countless others.”
According to the school, Walla Walla Community College serves 7,535 full- and part-time students. Officials estimate about a third of its enrollment is viewed as “historically underrepresented students of color.” The school, which operates a satellite campus in the Lewis-Clark Valley town of Clarkston, Wash., offers two applied baccalaureates, 53 degrees and 52 certificate programs. It serves Asotin, Columbia, Garfield and Walla Walla counties.
“This is an extraordinary grant, and it affirms what we already knew: that WWCC, our communities, and our students are worthy of investment,” Cook added in her letter to WWCC Foundation donors. “From my perspective, this gift enhances our critical role in this state and region, and it builds upon what you’ve made possible.”