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Employees couldn’t believe that the college mailroom was so trustworthy, or that the alum had felt so confident sending that kind of money through the mail. 

Alumni donations are usually a very formal affair involving fundraisers and elaborate contracts. More often than not, alumni will donate to their alma mater in exchange for some sort of recognition — a grant named after them, a celebratory party, or even a building renamed in their honor.

A recent alumni gift however came to The City College of New York (CCNY) in the most interesting — and selfless — way. 

What One Professor Found in a Cardboard Box

three cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva

A cardboard box addressed to CCNY’s physics department had been sitting in the mailroom for months when Vinod Menon finally picked it up, along with a few other pieces of junk mail.

Vinod, the chairman of the physics department, thought perhaps the cardboard box contained some kind of memento from a former student, but what he saw when he opened the box shocked him.

Looking down into the box, Vinod saw $180,000 in $50 and $100 dollar bills. Having never seen that amount of cash in person before, Vinod was in awe. 

“I’ve never seen this kind of money in real life in cash form. I’ve never seen it except in movies, and so, yeah, I was shell shocked and I just did not know how to react,” he said.

The mysterious box had been delivered in November of 2020, long after the school’s physical classes were shut down and moved online because of the pandemic. It weighed just under five pounds and had been sent from Florida. 

What the City College of New York Did With the Money

Inside the box was an anonymous letter explaining that the sender was a former student who had graduated with a double major in physics and math, and gone on to get an MA in physics, and then a double PhD in physics and astronomy.

The letter went on to explain the alum’s motivation behind sending the donation:

“Assuming that you are (a) bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward: the excellent educational opportunity available to me — which I took full advantage of at CCNY (and Stuyvesant High School) — gave me the basis to continue to develop.”

He concluded the message explaining that he had had a very rewarding and successful career in science and was looking to pay it forward while expressing gratitude to CCNY. His only request was that the money go towards helping junior and senior students double majoring in physics and math who require financial aid.

Vinod immediately called the Dean of the Science Department, campus police, and the Alumni Relations department when he realized how much money was in the box.

Officials, including the FBI, NYPD, and UPSP, checked to make sure that the money hadn’t come from any criminal activity. Then, they tried unsuccessfully to track the donor down. He had given a fake name and a wrong address on the return label.

How One Anonymous Man Displayed a Selfless Act of Giving

bag filled money
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

The CCNY board of trustees voted to accept the gift and brainstormed ways to pay homage to the donor. They even recommended bronzing the cardboard box and making it into a statue! Ultimately, they didn’t implement this idea, but they were grateful for the donor’s generosity and the honesty and trustworthiness of the postal service. 

Since tuition at CCNY is only $7500 annually, the donation will fund grants for a decade to come. 

“I’d like them to know that firstly, we are thankful for the gift. I’m really honored that he or she decided that this was the right place to spend that kind of money on. And I’m also proud of the fact that the person had a wonderful career based on the education that they received at City College.”

The gifts of the anonymous donor have had a huge positive effect on CCNY. Even though the gift was almost not discovered, it is amazing that the school and the postal service all did their duty and nobody was compelled to steal such an incredible sum of cash. This story give us hope for the future of humanity!

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