The gift of education is a gift that keeps on giving

Instead of accepting gifts, a couple asked their wedding guests to donate money to help settle students’ fee debts at their alma mater, Rhodes University.

The lovebirds, Toni Parsons, 37, and James Rycroft, 36, tied the knot two weeks ago and exchanged wedding vows in Southbroom, outside Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.

The university said the couple first met at the institution in the early 2000s, when they were students.

“Their ‘gesture of goodwill’, as Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela described it, was inspired by another Old Rhodian and mutual friend, Natasha Joseph. Since 2017 she has run an annual call for contributions to clear students’ fee accounts,” the university said on its website.

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“Earning a degree is often a key life moment for a young person and we felt strongly about directing our community resources to helping a few young people at the university to graduate,” said Rycroft.

Parsons added: “We believe that earning a degree should not be inhibited by your [in]ability to pay. A degree from a quality institution 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 the cash.”

In a letter addressed to the couple, Mabizela welcomed their 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,” said Mabizela

The newlyweds attended Rhodes after earning a one-year bursary award through the annual national English Olympiad, the university noted.

Met while studying

They met in 2001 while studying towards a Bachelor of Arts degree, with English as a major.

Parsons went on to complete her BA (Hons) in Philosophy.

“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. We have change agents for our engaged alumni. Our data shows healthy growth in giving by the 29-39 years cohort,” Rhodes University director for communication and advancement Luzuko Jacobs said.

“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.”

It’s unclear how much money has been raised so far.

The couple lives in Durban, where Rycroft – a third generation Old Rhodian – runs a management consultancy business, while Parsons splits her time between television production and studying towards a Master of Theology degree at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

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