The Nashua High School Class of 1963 started something.
In advance of the class’s 50th reunion in 2013, reunion committee members decided to start a scholarship for graduating seniors.
They set their sights on raising $10,000 among their former classmates. They raised $20,000.
Every donation was an investment in the young people of Nashua — people who were generations removed from their own high school days.
After that reunion, committee chair Steve Doris had breakfast with classmate Richard Cabral.
“He said ‘you guys didn’t ask for enough — I think we can raise the bar,’” Doris said. Cabral gave another $50,000 to grow the scholarship endowment fund.
By 2015, the Class of 1963 had increased its fundraising goal to $100,000 and had entrusted the Charitable Foundation to manage the fund. They were running a true crowdsourced effort — with contributions ranging from $25 to more than $50,000 from almost 100 members of their graduating class.
Peter Stylianos had grown up working in his parents’ TV and radio repair shop in Nashua. He went straight from Nashua High School to the University of New Hampshire for a degree in electrical engineering. After college, he took a job in California. With partners, he started a company manufacturing semiconductors, which went public. Though he has not lived in Nashua since, his ties and memories remain strong.
In advance of the Class of 1963’s upcoming 60th reunion, he decided to make a major investment in Nashua’s young people. He emailed Doris in March to let him know that he would be contributing $1 million to the scholarship fund.
“I was absolutely speechless,” Doris said. “It is life-changing, what we are going to be able to do for the kids.”
What the Class of 1963 started meant that, this year, Ava Rodriguez, Valeria Ortiz-Cuevas and Sara Thellen all got help launching their college careers at the University of Maine, Emmanuel College and the University of Vermont.
What the Class of 1963 started means that 27 students so far — studying everything from biotechnology to nursing to education at both two- and four-year colleges — got the message that people in their community cared about their future, about their promise, about their potential.
The Class of 1963 scholarships go to students who have a 2.5 GPA or higher and who have financial need. Special consideration is given to young people who have faced challenges and those who have demonstrated their commitment to community.
“This is just inspiring to me, as an educator,” said Judy Loftus, a veteran Nashua teacher who serves on the committee that selects scholarship recipients. To the students receiving the awards, the scholarships send a message from 1963 graduates: “We believe in you and your potential and we are investing in your education because we see your promise. It is an affirmation that you are part of this community and your value in this community is recognized and your achievement is recognized.”
In the first year, scholarship awards from the fund were $1,000. This year, three scholarships were awarded — two for $3,200 and one for $4,200. With the significant growth in the fund, the size of the awards is set to grow. Which is great news for students and families who are faced with the high cost of college. When the Class of 1963 graduated and headed to college, annual in-state tuition at the University of New Hampshire was $380. Now, it is more than $15,000. With fees, room and board, the price tag rises to more than $32,000.
Over their lifetimes, college graduates have far greater earning potential than their counterparts with just a high-school degree.
“The most important thing that a person can do for themselves is to be as highly educated as they possibly can,” Stylianos said. “Find that niche of where you think you belong and then educate yourself so that you contribute.”
What the Class of 1963 started will last in perpetuity. The scholarship is open to students at Nashua High School South, formerly Nashua High School. Students apply for the funds through the school, and award decisions are made by a committee of Nashua educators.
“These scholarships are going to live on long past when any of us are still going to be around,” Loftus said. “That kind of generosity for our public school students is pretty amazing.”
As of next year, four scholarships will be awarded annually from the Class of 1963 fund.
Two are in the name of the entire Class of 1963.
One will be in the name of Stylianos, in honor of his contribution.
And one is in the name of Richard Cabral, who passed away in 2017 and who, along with his wife Wendy Cabral, continued to contribute significantly to the scholarship after their initial donation.
“It does my heart good to be able to do this,” said Peter Chaloner, who also serves on the committee that started the scholarship. “It is a beautiful thing. The kids are all nice smart kids who are going to make something out of their lives — and how nice is that?”
What the Class of 1963 started encouraged Stylianos to create a second scholarship at the Charitable Foundation, this one for students from Nashua High School South and Nashua High School North and surrounding communities who are studying in STEM fields. That scholarship is managed by student aid staff at the Foundation.
Stylianos hopes the Class of 1963 scholarship will be a template for alumni groups who want to “pay back for the wonderful education that gave them opportunity and possibilities.”
He thinks of what the Class of 1963 started as a pebble dropped into a lake — and sees ripple effects that go beyond a single graduating class or community. On each concentric ripple moving through the water, he envisions the words “pay it forward, pay it forward, pay it forward…”
To make a gift to the Class of 1963 scholarship, visit give.nhcf.org/Classof1963
The New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is the largest provider of publicly available scholarships in New Hampshire, awarding more than $8 million to nearly 1,800 students each year. Learn more about applying for a scholarship and opening a scholarship fund at the Foundation.