Pulling Together

Engineering and crew alumnus Tafari Duncan has found a new team sport: giving.
Tafari Duncan

When a classmate asked Tafari Duncan, E17, to help create Friends of Tufts Rowing a year ago, Duncan hesitated. He had loved being part of crew—he rowed for three years at Tufts—and he thought it was a great idea to bring together alumni and friends to raise funds for the program. But he wasn’t the strongest athlete on the squad, and he didn’t have the resources to offer a large donation.

“Who am I to join the leadership team, when you have people who have donated entire boats and I’m still paying off my loans?” he recalled thinking.

But after a little consideration, Duncan decided to join the fledgling group. It doesn’t matter what your standing on the team was or how deep your pockets are, he concluded—it matters that you are committed to bringing fans of the rowing program together to support it. “I had a wonderful experience rowing, and I wanted to give back,” he said.

That commitment to giving back has been a powerful theme in Duncan’s life. A recipient of the Alex Mendell Memorial Scholarship and other financial aid that made his Tufts years possible, Duncan gave his first gift to the university while still an undergraduate. He said two factors persuaded him to do so: the importance of financial aid and the understanding that participation rates make a difference, even when individual donations are not large.

“As a student on financial aid, I thought, ‘I have a dollar or two I can spare,’” said Duncan, who was also the record-breaking 1,200th donor to the Tufts Young Alumni March to the Top Challenge last year. “High participation numbers show that students care about the university.” That display of support may influence other donors with the capacity to provide more funds, he added.

Duncan is originally from Hartford, Connecticut, where he ran cross-country and played tennis in high school. At Tufts, he appreciated that crew welcomed newcomers to the sport and provided structure to his days and a varied set of friends.

A computer science major, Duncan worked as a teaching assistant in that department, led campus tours, and made phone calls to alumni, parents, and friends of the university as part of the Tufts Telefund fundraising program for two years. He also served on the Committee on Student Life and the President’s Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council while a student. He’s now a transitional member of the Tufts Alumni Council, helping to represent the views of recent graduates. “I just like being involved, wherever I go,” he said.

Duncan lives in New York City, where he works as a software developer with Capital One bank. He serves as secretary of Friends of Tufts Rowing, and while the group is still in its infancy, it’s developing initiatives such as a mentoring program that will match current student-athletes with alumni.

The group has also been successful in raising funds for the current team. This fall, in its first crowd-funding effort on crowdfund.tufts.edu, it raised more than $10,000 to purchase two sets of eight sweep oars.

For Duncan, that was just the latest in a string of efforts to give back. While he won’t claim his years at Tufts were perfect— “I had my fair share of struggles,” he said—he gained a lot through his experiences and met people who became his closest friends.

“I want to make a difference because I loved the people and the community,” he said. “I want to make sure other students can have the positive experiences I did.”