Secret Society Inspires Alumna’s Gift to Scholarships

In fall 1984 a story of quiet generosity unfolded that could have happened only at UVA.

Fourth-year student Mary Kate Grant (Col ’85)—now Mary Kate Cary—held three part-time jobs to pay for her college education. She had a work-study job at Clemons Library, washed dishes at her sorority house and anchored the complaint desk at Rose’s department store. She also took a full load of classes and served as executive editor of The Cavalier Daily, the University’s student newspaper.

Despite her best efforts, though, Cary faced a serious financial shortfall only five months before graduation. Without help, she would have to withdraw from UVA

Cary reviewed her options. She had already secured a Capitol Hill job and figured she could save money to finish her degree later. Yet she dreaded the idea of leaving UVA before finishing her degree.

Feeling desperate, Cary hit upon a bold idea: ask the Seven Society for a loan. “I was aware of how much money the Sevens had given for all kinds of causes,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m a good cause. Why don’t I try that?’”

Cary then followed a tradition familiar to all UVA students. “The word on the street was that if you wanted to communicate with the Sevens, you would take your letter, fold it up and put it in Thomas Jefferson’s hand,” she said. Cary managed to sneak into the Rotunda and place the letter in the hand of Alexander Galt’s Jefferson statue.

Soon after leaving her note in Jefferson’s hand, she entered her Lawn room one evening to find an envelope with a letter on Seven Society stationery and a $277.77 check. Citing her “outstanding contributions and service to the University,” the letter declared the money a gift, not a loan. She finished her degree and graduated.

Years later, after serving as a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and a political commentator for national media outlets, Cary repaid the $277.77—plus 7 percent interest—as thanks for the Sevens’ exquisitely timed generosity.

Today she credits the Seven Society’s gift with inspiring her to support a wide range of initiatives at UVA, including major gifts for need-based scholarships, faculty support and the Jeffersonian Grounds Initiative.

“I am extremely grateful for the support I received while I was a student at UVA,” Cary said. “I encourage other alumni to give to need-based scholarships for the students who follow in our footsteps.”