top of page

A beautiful Christmas gift: $180,000 in cash for some college students

… CCNY students in physics receive unusual package

The package was unusual, to say the least — and it was certainly not one from Santa Claus. The recipients, however, may look upon the benefactor as one who was the equivalent of the jolly guy who brings those gifts to children and leaves them under the Christmas tree.

For the Physics Department at the City College of New York, it was an unusual package, but one that demonstrated some true gratitude for what it had done for a student many years ago.

Here is the unusual, but heartwarming, scenario.

When he returned to teaching in-person this semester, Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York in Harlem, finally looked through a pile of office mail and found a cardboard box the size of a toaster.

The box, heavy enough to warrant $90 in postage for priority U.S. mail, was addressed to “Chairman, Physics Department” — his title.

Maybe it was a token of thanks from a former student, Dr. Menon thought, as he inspected the package, which was postmarked Nov. 10, 2020. It had been sitting for more than nine months, first in the campus mailroom and then in the physics office.

For Dr. Menon, 49, who specializes in nano- and microphotonics, an exciting moment usually comes in a campus laboratory with some breakthrough in the exploration of the way light interacts with matter on a quantum level.

But the matter contained in the cardboard box gave him quite a charge. It was full of $50 and $100 bills bundled in paper bands, totaling $180,000.

An enclosed letter to Dr. Menon explained that the cash was a donation meant to help needy physics and math students at City College.

Corey Kilgannon, “A Box of Cash, a Secret Donor and a Big Lift for Some N.Y.C. Students,” New York Times, December 21, 2021

To say that this gift was unusual would be an understatement.

Who would send something like this?

When the head of the department opened this, he was shocked — but also puzzled. He had as many questions as answers,

The letter explained the donor’s motivations. “Assuming that you are bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward,” wrote the donor, who said he or she “long ago” took advantage of the “excellent educational opportunity” of attending both Stuyvesant High School and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at City College, which helped lead to “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific career.

The note was unsigned, and the name on the return address, Kyle Paisley, was not listed as a graduate in the college’s records.

The note was unsigned, and the name on the return address, Kyle Paisley, was not listed as a graduate in the college’s records.

Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, December 21, 2021

The professor knows what this means

While the gift is unusual, for a school like CCNY, not an elite institution with students from wealthy families, it meant a great deal for the immigrant from India who probably understands poverty very well,

The professor, who emigrated from India in 1996, has studied and conducted research at public universities and private institutions, including Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Despite offers to teach at elite schools, Dr. Menon said he has remained at City College largely because of its commitment to offering an affordable education to a diverse body of students, many of them immigrants. Many of his students come from families who have never attended college, and many have never been inside a laboratory, he said.

“The impact factor of teaching here is much higher,” he said. “It’s a place where you can elevate somebody.”

Corey Kilgannon, New York Times, December 21, 2021

Not “It’s a wonderful life,” but it is close.

19 views0 comments


bottom of page