PHILADELPHIA University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann got the surprise of her Penn life when, at a dinner for students and scholarship donors, Penn Trustee George Weiss handed her an envelope on which he had written, "Have a nice day, Amy!"
Inside was a check for $14 million, earmarked for one of Gutmann passions, undergraduate financial aid.
Visibly moved, Gutmann summed up the significance of the moment.
"This check is not for me, and it is not for Penn," she said. "It is for all the young men and women who can realize their dreams because of what George Weiss is making possible."
This latest gift brings to $20 million Weiss total giving to Penn upcoming fundraising campaign, with $14 million being used to create a special challenge program designed to encourage extraordinary donors, "Men and Women of Pennsylvania," to contribute $2 million each to undergraduate financial aid.
Weiss, a 1965 graduate of Penn Wharton School, is a co-chair of the upcoming campaign and the mastermind behind the undergraduate scholarship initiative.
"We have made tremendous progress in raising money for scholarships, but there so much more we need to do," he said. "The bright, impassioned students we see all around this campus are the best reminders of what this is all about. It's about promise. It's about opportunity. It's about the future. We simply can't fail."
Increasing access to Penn is one of three priorities of Gutmann Penn Compact, her plan for propelling the University from excellence to eminence.
"Nothing is more important to fulfilling the promise of our country than educational opportunity," Gutmann said, "and no one understands that better than George Weiss. When we give talented students of high potential access to the great education that Penn can offer, we advance, in the most important way, the ideals of a democratic society."
Weiss has now given more than $58 million to a wide variety of Penn priorities. In addition to undergraduate scholarships, he has supported the Weiss Tech House, one of Penn innovative interdisciplinary initiatives; the Weiss Center for International Financial Research at Wharton; endowed professorships; a deanship; and intercollegiate athletics.
In sharing what motivates his giving, Weiss recalled the late Walter Annenberg.
"We were at a board meeting, and he made an extraordinary and unexpected contribution to Penn," Weiss said. "I was among those who gave him a standing ovation. His response stays with me today. He said, 'It is simply a matter of good citizenship.'"
Weiss is president of George Weiss Associates Inc., a money-management firm with offices in Hartford, Conn., and New York. He is known throughout the country as the founder of the nationally recognized Say Yes to Education program that combines academic support and intervention with an offer to pay college tuition or vocational training costs for inner-city students. The program was launched in Philadelphia in 1987 and has grown to include more than 768 students in four cities. Say Yes is based at Penn Graduate School of Education.
At Penn, Weiss is a charter trustee, a member of the Athletic Advisory Board, chair of Penn Committee on Undergraduate Financial Aid and co-chair of the University upcoming fundraising campaign.
He is also the father of two Penn graduates, Deborah Weiss and Allison Weiss, and holds Penn highest alumni honor, the Award of Merit.