When Old Rhodians, Toni Parsons (37) and James Rycroft (36), decided to tie the knot just over a week ago, they asked guests to their wedding to consider donating money to settle students’ fee debts at their alma mater, Rhodes University, instead of the usual gift registries.
The couple, who met at the University when both were students in the early 2000s, exchanged wedding vows earlier this month in the coastal town of Southbroom outside Port Shepstone in KwaZulu-Natal.
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.
“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 James.
Toni 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.”
Dr 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.”
In a rather lovely coincidence, both Parsons and Rycroft came to Rhodes after earning a one-year bursary award through the annual national English Olympiad. They met in 2001 while both were reading for a Bachelor of Arts degree with English as a major. Parsons would go 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. 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, Director for Communication and Advancement, Luzuko Jacobs, said.
James born and bred in Durban, is a third-generation Old Rhodian. His grandfather was in Milner House, and his father and brother also studied at Rhodes University. Toni was born in Johannesburg and went to boarding school in Potchefstroom.
Presently, James runs his own management consultancy business and Toni juggles TV production while researching for her Master of Theology degree in gender and religious theory from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They live in Durban.