Open to all

By
Principal William K. Rawson ’71; P’08
January 29, 2020
Principal Bill Rawson speaks at Exeter event

Phillips Exeter Academy “shall ever be equally open to youth of requisite qualifications from every quarter.” John and Elizabeth Phillips wrote those extraordinary words two years before the Revolutionary War ended and seven years before the U.S. Constitution was ratified. Our school is older than our current federal government.

Importantly, John and Elizabeth Phillips established Exeter as a free school. They also anticipated that their initial philanthropy would not be sufficient to support the school over time. In the Deed of Gift, the Phillipses wisely stated their expectation that “persons of ability, who reap some advantage by this institution, will cheerfully assist ... so that poor children of promising genius may be introduced, and members who may need some special aid may have it afforded them.” 

In the 239 years since those words were written, our founders’ expectation has indeed been cheerfully met by generations of Exonians who have supported our great school. Exeter’s annual fund provides a wonderful example. In 1922, the class of 1920 voted to have classmates who were able give $10 annually to the Academy. The classes of 1921 and 1922 quickly followed suit. They were inspired by Principal Lewis Perry’s habit of using his own money to provide students in need with clothing and other items. The alumni classes wanted to provide funds for the principal to use at his discretion. Their collective generosity, known then as the “Christmas Fund,” established what we now call The Exeter Fund — the second-oldest annual fund in the United States (Yale’s being the first). 

It is because of such examples of philanthropy during our school’s history that more than 500 students are recipients of financial assistance this year. That’s up from 215 when I was a student on scholarship 50 years ago, and up from 334 just 15 years ago. Support for financial aid changes lives. It certainly changed mine. Without it, Exeter would not be the school that it is today, nor the community that you see reflected in this issue of the Bulletin

Exeter remains true to its mission to unite goodness and knowledge and inspire youth from every quarter to live purposeful lives. We see this in the stories presented in this issue of the Bulletin, all of which demonstrate our community’s collective will to maintain the strength and diversity of our student body and the excellence of our programs. 

As we look to the future, and as the cost of an Exeter education increases, we must continue the same commitment to the Academy introduced by our founders. Exeter must remain a school open to all qualified students, and support for financial aid must always be one of our highest priorities. On behalf of the entire Academy community, I wish to express profound gratitude to the generations of alumni, parents and friends who have supported our school. We look to the future with great anticipation for what we will accomplish together in service to our students and to Exeter. Thank you.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the winter 2020 issue of The Exeter Bulletin.

More to Explore