Tom Toronto ’79 had not been to campus in more than 30 years when he attended Montclair State University’s Annual Scholarship Dinner as a guest of an old classmate. As he walked around the campus that evening, he says that he felt a renewed connection to the University and decided to become a member of the President’s Club. “It’s nice to be able to pay back.”
Tom recalls that he wasn’t keen on the idea of college when he graduated from Lodi High School. “I was a little bit of a late starter,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily planning on going to college. I was going to go to work.”
But after a stint as a truck driver, Tom began to rethink his decision. “I realized that there might be a better way.”
Tom enrolled at Montclair State, landed what was then the highest paid student job on campus – Student Center building manager – where he had the chance to work with virtually every student group on campus and got to know Dean of Students Lawton Blanton, who Tom remembers as a “great guy.”
Academically, Tom embraced wholeheartedly the idea of a liberal arts education, taking a wide assortment of classes and experiencing all that the campus had to offer. “It was all the things that happen to young people between the ages of 18 and 22,” he remembers. “Learning to not accept conventional wisdom, forging bonds of friendship, making connections with professors – significant changes and growth in what I now understand is a very compressed period of time,” he says. He eventually settled in the Department of Political Science from which he earned his degree.
Tom says attending Montclair State changed his life. “My horizons were broadened; my sights were raised significantly.” He decided to pursue studies at the graduate level, attending Columbia University, from which he received a master’s degree in administration. Connections he made at Columbia led to a position with the United Way, where he has risen through the ranks and is now president of Bergen County’s United Way.
Being on campus last spring helped him understand the enormous impact Montclair State had on him. That understanding, he says, was what prompted him to make a gift to the University. “I received wise counsel here from people who took an interest in me,” he says. “They helped me to chart a direction for my life.”