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In the spring of 2022, at least 15 colleges and universities, including my own, Alfred University, jointly awarded honorary degrees during our commencement exercises. We honored President Volodymyr Zelensky in absentia on behalf of the Ukrainian people.

Our collective gesture recognized the inspiring example provided by the Ukrainian leader in defense of freedom and democracy and the significance of what Ukraine’s citizens are fighting for, not just for themselves but in the greater geopolitical context.

Zelensky’s leadership of Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s unprovoked aggression demonstrates qualities we hope to inspire in our students: dedication and perseverance; courage and integrity, notwithstanding the difficulty of the challenges one confronts; empathy; humility and humor; and an ability to communicate effectively to broad and diverse audiences.

The higher education institutions conferring honorary degrees on Zelensky committed to assisting Ukraine in other ways. We educated our campus communities as to what is at stake in Ukraine, facilitated efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian citizens and offered scholarships for Ukrainians interested in pursuing higher education.

Zelensky noted in his recent address to our Congress that financial assistance to Ukraine represents an investment, not charity. Scholarships, for example, are an especially effective means to help Ukrainians build a better future for their nation. In spring 2022, a survey of 559 colleges conducted by the Institute of International Education found that 248 (44 percent) reported enrolling Ukrainian students, with many institutions providing Ukrainian students with financial assistance (58 percent) or assistance with housing costs (29 percent).

At Alfred University, four Ukrainian students joined us for their undergraduate studies last fall, all with full or nearly full tuition scholarships provided through a combination of institutional and philanthropic support; a fifth student enrolled at Alfred this spring with a scholarship covering 90 percent of tuition costs. Much as their president has inspired the broader world, these students have impressed our campus community through their resilience, resoluteness, pride in their homeland and optimism about Ukraine’s future.

In November, the four students from Ukraine organized a presentation that introduced our campus community to their nation’s history, geography, culture, food, dress, songs, customs, dances, entrepreneurial spirit and educational system. The moving nature of the presentation stemmed from the personal stories that the students shared—of losses within their family and friendship circles as well as of their steely resolve to overcome the challenges posed by Russia’s aggression. One of the students, for example, decided to contribute all that she has saved for college to help arm a local regiment to defend her homeland. Having seemingly forsaken her college dreams, she is especially appreciative of the scholarship our university offered her through a donor’s philanthropic support.

According to economists, roughly three-quarters of the wealth of most countries is accounted for by human capital. The keenness with which the Ukrainian students have been pursuing their studies augurs well for what they will contribute to their nation’s well-being upon their return as Alfred graduates.

Providing scholarship support to Ukrainian students has also afforded an invaluable opportunity for our university to fulfill its mission. As we have made resolutions for this new year, 2023, one of the ones that our university has articulated is to continue to offer scholarship support to talented and motivated Ukrainian students. The five students who have accepted our offers so far have afforded the proverbial giver’s gain to Alfred University. We encourage our administrative colleagues at other colleges and universities to follow suit, thereby realizing a similar institutional giver’s gain while transforming student lives and bettering the world.

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