In a rare demonstration of loyalty and altruism, a young couple, James Rycroft and Toni Parsons, urged friends and well-wishers at their wedding to donate all the money they intended to use to buy them gifts towards settling outstanding Rhodes University student fees.
James and Toni exchanged wedding vows earlier this month at the coastal town of Southbroom outside Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal. Both are ‘Old Rhodians’, as ex-Rhodes students are affectionately known.
The decision by the couple was inspired by another Old Rhodian and mutual friend, Natasha Joseph. She has been running an annual call for contributions to clear students’ fee accounts in lieu of buying her birthday presents.
“Earning a degree is often a key life moment for a young person and we felt strongly about directing some of the resources of our community to helping a few young people at the University to graduate,” said James.
Said Toni, “we believe that earning a degree should not be inhibited by your [in]ability to pay. A degree from a quality university like Rhodes University can lead to serious opportunities when you enter the world of work. The contributions made by our community are intended in that spirit – to help those students who are unable to graduate, not because they did not meet academic standards, but because they were unable to raise cash.”
Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, in a letter to the couple, welcomed the “profound gesture”.
“This has impacted me deeply. It proves, once again, the calibre and well-roundedness of our graduates. At a time when young couples would normally and naturally only think of their own comfort and improving their lives, they have both actioned a social purpose and are living proof of our alumni.”
During their time at Rhodes University, the couple received a one-year bursary award from the English Olympiad. They met in 2001 while Toni was reading for her Bachelor of Arts Honours and James was doing a Bachelor of Arts degree, both majoring in English.
“We lost touch after graduating and it was through Facebook that we reconnected. We met again in 2016 through our dear friend Natasha, and got engaged in 2018 in Esizindeni, near Coffee Bay, during our December cross-country road trip,” they said.
“Rhodes University has a unique aura about it: exclusive yet accessible and pursuing transformation through excellence,” Director for Communication and Advancement, Luzuko Jacobs, said. “We have change agents for our engaged alumni. Our data shows healthy growth in giving by the 29-39-year-old cohort. It gives a great feeling just how young professionals are getting increasingly involved in positive social advancement of our communities through Rhodes University as their vehicle of choice.”
James (36), born and bred in Durban, is a third-generation Old Rhodian. His maternal grandmother spent a year at the University before transferring to the University of Cape Town, and his father and brother also studied at Rhodes University. Toni (37), was born in Johannesburg and went to boarding school in Potchefstroom.
James runs a management consultancy business and Toni juggles TV production while researching for her Master’s degree in gender and religious theory from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They live in Durban.