Box of Cash Sent to City College by Secret Donor Contains $180k for Physics Department

The anonymous donor sent the City College's physics department a $180,000 gift for helping him have “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific career.

Vinod Menon, a physics professor at City College of New York in Harlem, returned to in-person teaching this semester and finally had a chance to go through a pile of mail that had been sitting in the mailroom for a long time — then, he came across a cardboard box the size of a toaster. 

Though the box was small in size, it was heavy enough to require $90 in postage. It was addressed to “Chairman, Physics Department” and postmarked Nov. 10, 2020. 

The 49-year professor, who specializes in nano- and micro-photonics, assumed it may be a thank-you gift from a former student. However, what he found inside was shocking: It was full of $50 and $100 bills bundled in paper bands, totaling $180,000.

“It was a complete shock — I know a lot of academics and I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he told The New York Times. “I didn’t know if the college accepted cash, so I didn’t know if they’d keep it.”

The letter explained the donor’s motivations. “Assuming that you are bit curious as to why I am doing this, the reason is straightforward,” wrote the donor, who said he or she “long ago” took advantage of the “excellent educational opportunity” of attending both Stuyvesant High School and earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics at City College, which helped lead them to “a long, productive, immensely rewarding” scientific career.

The note was left unsigned, and the name on the return address was not listed in the college’s record. Dr. Menon said the gift is less about the monetary value and more about “a testament to what the physics department has been providing all these years.”

Dr. Menon also noted that the annual tuition for City College costs $7,500, so the gift will go much further than if it had been given to a private institution in terms of providing scholarships.

Image source: The New York Times