Double or Nothing

Hill Pledges $20 million to the Hockaday School

VISION OF THE FUTURE Plans designed by Good Fulton & Farrell for the Lyda Hill Center.


Hockaday girls like to come in first. Lyda Hill ’60 is no exception. Kicking off the centennial campaign, she recently donated $20 million—the largest single gift in Hockaday history and the largest single gift from a living alumna to an independent girls’ school in the nation, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

The gift provides the $10 million lead gift to renovate and build a third floor of the science building, the Lyda Hill STEM institute, and $10 million for faculty endowment and program support. It will enable Hockaday to remain at the forefront of education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Science is the deal,” Hill says. “My foundation, my tagline is ‘science is the answer.’ It really doesn’t matter what the question is or what the problem is, I truly believe that science can help solve that problem.”

Hill initially pledged $10 million to the development of Hockaday’s STEM program, but upon learning that $10 million would make her gift the third largest of its kind, she decided to double her donation and snag the number one title.

“I’ve gotten some fun emails from some of my classmates who’ve gotten the message from the school about my gift saying, ‘You never did want be number two or three. You always wanted to be number one,’” says the former Hockaday athlete. One classmate reminded Hill of her competitive drive on the field hockey team. “When I was charging down the field with that hockey stick, they got out of my way,” Hill laughs.

She hopes her gift will inspire other women to achieve success in various areas of scientific research. “The Hockaday gal, if I can help her advance on, she’s going to develop skills so that she can find the seed that’s going to feed people; she can find the cure that’s going to help people.”

Eugene McDermott Headmistress Jeanne P. Whitman agrees on the importance of STEM education and the opportunities for girls at Hockaday that the sciences present. According to Whitman, there has been a 59% increase in enrollment in science classes in the Upper School since 2000 and a 250% increase in girls taking AP sciences over the same period.

“So many things that are going to drive the quality of our lives in the coming decades are going to be things that are driven by discoveries in the STEM disciplines,” she says. “Even if one doesn’t go on to be a scientist or an engineer or a doctor, it’s just important that you all be comfortable in that arena.”

The gift is only the first part of Hockaday’s centennial campaign. The campaign’s goal is to renovate both the science building and the fine arts wing, says Chief Financial Officer Mary Pat Higgins. In addition, a corridor linking the two wings is planned. The school hopes to raise a total of $15 million for the science building and $24 million for the arts complex.

When seeking a donation from Hill, the school “focused on the science department because of her great interest in math and science,” Higgins says. “We told her if she could give $10 million for the project, it would be covering more than half of the project, so it would be substantial enough of a lead gift for us to go to other donors.”

Hill surprised the entire community when, on April 6, in front of a group of trustees, students, faculty and staff, she announced her intent to double her pledge. Whitman describes the announcement as “exhilarating.”

“It was an extraordinary testament to [Hill’s] belief in what this school does and what this school is.”

Junior Giovanna, president of JETS, was in attendance as a student representative for the sciences. She presented Hill with an orange version of the pink JETS hard hat because orange is Hill’s favorite color. Giovanna  had an onstage seat from which to view the audience’s reaction to the announcement.

“I got to watch everyone’s expression,” she says. “All the teachers and trustees when she announced that she was actually donating $20 million were completely shocked and while that was really amusing, suddenly, how much of a big deal it was hit me, too.”

DOUBLE OR NOTHING Lyda Hill announces to the Hockaday community her $20 million pledge.

Though Hockaday will not break ground until either the summer of 2012 or the summer of 2013, the science department has already begun planning what the new building will look like.

“We knew that we needed renovations so we worked together with the architects to plan ‘the dream building,’” says Dean of Studies and science teacher Barbara Fishel. But how much of this “dream” would be realized depended on the available funding from the capital campaign. “This starting gift, this huge thing…makes it seem much more likely to happen,” she says.

In addition to the new third floor, the entry gate from Forest Lane will also be named the Lyda Hill Gate.

Hill’s gift illustrates Hockaday’s role not only as a leader in STEM education, but also in women’s leadership and independence. Whitman notes the importance of “this larger symbolism of a woman stepping forward.” That the donation came from “an alumna as opposed to a father or a husband or a grandfather,” says Hill, makes “a big statement not only about what Hockaday could be but what it has been.”

Hill eagerly anticipates the impact of her donation. “I just wish that I was born later so I could get to be in those classrooms,” she says. Though she certainly made the most of her Hockaday education, Hill recognizes that her opportunities coming out of Hockaday were limited compared to the students of today. “I am so jealous of what you girls have here. This is an amazing place to be able to go to school.”