tanni wu holding a photo of her mother at a bench dedication

Tanni Wu ’06 is among more than 50 Cornell alumni—representing class years that span seven decades—who established or significantly enhanced new affordability scholarships in fiscal year 2023. She leveraged the Undergraduate Affordability Challenge Match program to extend the reach and power of her gift.

The Undergraduate Affordability Initiative aims to enhance the socioeconomic diversity of Cornell’s undergraduate student body. Did this factor in your decision to make a gift?

Indeed. Throughout my Cornell career and during my decade-plus experience as an alumni volunteer, I have encountered a number of brilliantly accomplished Cornellians whose life-changing Cornell education was made possible by the generosity of those who came before us. I have learned so much from their diligence, focus, and sense of purpose, and I wanted to do my modest part to help sustain this tradition.

What personal experiences inspired you to make an endowed affordability scholarship?

Both my sense of self and sense of community benefited greatly from my Cornell experience. The campus then and the campus now embody our founder’s commitment to “… any person … any study.”

It matters not one’s origin, once initiated, we are all Cornellians who carry with us this simple yet powerful value the world needs more so today than ever in my lifetime. Race, gender, ethnicity, national, and economic backgrounds … none of that should be a barrier isolating us from one another.

On an even more personal level, I named the scholarship after my late mother, Mary Ma, a former member of the Cornell China Advisory Board (CAB). Mom’s Lenovo/IBM years with frequent U.S.-bound travels overlapped with my time at Cornell. She became a Big Red fan in no time, and the quality time we spent together on her many quick visits to Ithaca in the midst of her intense business itinerary were among the fondest of our shared memories, and a source of inspiration for her “yes” when invited to join CAB years after my graduation.

Following Mom’s passing in 2019, friends, family, and I donated funds for a memorial bench outside of Olin Library, facing the Arts Quad. Etched onto the bench is the phrase “Be Positive. Don’t Complain. Be Assertive,” a “mom mantra” that shone on my days, rain or shine, and helped me find the peace and courage to overcome challenges big and small throughout my Cornell career and beyond.

Besides sharing Mom’s words of wisdom to encourage and embolden today’s students as they did me two decades ago, I also wanted to honor her intention of always wanting to step up in ways that were uplifting and tangible for those in need. I am very grateful for the privilege to establish an affordability scholarship, in honor of a superb global citizen who deeply believed in and embodied some of the core values that distinguish Cornell as the unique institution we both are so very proud of.

Yes, this scholarship is deeply personal, and it is a value commitment.

Think back to your own Cornell experience. What would it have meant for you if you had received this scholarship or if you saw one of your friends or peers receive this level of support?

I was in the fortunate position of not having to endure too much undue financial hardship during my Cornell years, but I had friends who worked multiple jobs or skipped trips home. This may have affected their energy by not being able to be as focused on schoolwork as they would have wanted.

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