Now I can really see it.

As we have said from the first day of our campaign, I have come to know that each of you is one of a kind, just as the university you have supported so generously is such a unique and singular place. I am aware that you each have your own distinct Puget Sound story to tell. You have been inspired or influenced by a certain something or someone at the university and have invested in it with one hope or another in mind for the future of this great place. And as I think about thanking you for what you have done, words fail me.

There are just so many of you who participated in one way or another—too many for me to write individual thank-you notes. My hand hurts just thinking about it. So, impossible as the task admittedly is, I will try to express my gratitude to all of you at once.

Thank you for your stories—all collected during this campaign into one giant, blockbuster tale of adventure and possibility. So many individual threads are woven into one fabric of aspiration and purpose. It’s downright epic. Virtually Homeric. Mythic, even. Many people rallying together around a single cause and a particular place to contribute to one unified tale of genuine progress and real meaning.

Yours are the stories of more than 28,000 donors, 1,600 alumni volunteers, and nearly 500 parent volunteers who pitched in, reached out and went beyond—you set out to raise $125 million but reached $131.6 million. Your stories have given rise to thousands of other stories that are just beginning to be told: stories that will themselves also be woven into the unending saga of Puget Sound.

Take the story of Mary, for example, a first-year Matelich scholar, who brought her cello with her all the way from San Diego, as well as her experience as founder of the Westview High Nerdfighters and vice president of Advocates for a Better Environment, not to mention captain of the school’s robotics team (taking the team to the International World Championship semifinals against 4,500 other competitors). Mary has a great story ahead of her here and beyond, I know. She is here thanks to the full-ride Matelich Scholarship, established by George ’78 and Susan Matelich in the campaign, and intended to attract “blue flame” leaders to Puget Sound who will have a big impact. Mary’s got it like a rocket.

So does Amairany, from Lincoln High right here in Tacoma, who discovered in ninth grade that she was considered undocumented and suddenly realized not only that she would not be able to qualify for federal student aid but that she might well be deported, dashing her dream of going to college and someday becoming a civil rights attorney. It’s a long story, but you know where I am heading with this: Amairany’s dream has come true, and she is now attending Puget Sound as a freshman just like Mary this year, thanks to the Neukom Scholarship for first-generation students from Tacoma and Pierce County. And to add some further romance to the tale, Amairany was invited to visit the White House to meet the president and the first lady this summer as one of 150 young Americans recognized for overcoming great odds, becoming dreamers who made it. Her Puget Sound story has gotten off to a pretty great start.

Then there’s Billy, who is off to Oxford University to earn a doctorate in computer science on a Rhodes Scholarship—as Puget Sound’s third Rhodes Scholar ever and our first in 27 years. That’s big, and it’s an honor that required him to turn down the other most prestigious award an undergraduate can receive—a Marshall Scholarship, the first one ever earned by a Puget Sound student. Billy came to Puget Sound four years back on a scholarship funded by the campaign, too: the Lillis Scholarship, designed to draw the most talented students in America to the university, students who would be candidates for such honors as Fulbrights, Rhodes, and Marshalls. Well, Billy turned out to fit the bill perfectly, graduating last spring summa cum laude in both English and computer science, composing and producing an original musical while he was here, interning with a Nobel laureate chemist, publishing an article in a refereed academic journal in computer science, and inventing a handful of apps for your iPhone. Billy’s already about six stories in one. I hope the dons of Oxford are ready for him.

You made these stories happen—and hundreds more like them. You also brought faculty to campus in innovative new fields, built inspiring new academic facilities, introduced new interdisciplinary programs into our curriculum, established new field stations in Southeast Asia, where our students are studying the environment, and rewarded excellent teaching by our faculty. Your support brought us through the recession, strengthened our financial position, and established endowments for financial aid that will keep a Puget Sound education affordable for thousands of students forever.

So how, exactly, do we say “thank you” to tens of thousands of you for all this? For so masterfully weaving, as all of you have, this tale of opportunity and possibility, of potential realized, dreams come true, odds overcome, lives launched with hope and promise into the future? “What have I to give you back,” as Claudio put the question in Much Ado About Nothing, “whose worth may counterpoise this rich and precious gift?”

Numbers won’t do it, no matter how large. Neither will words, no matter how eloquent. The bard himself, the greatest master of the English language, once confessed (in Sonnet 103) when moved by an overwhelming gift of grace, that his words were completely inadequate to properly acknowledge its impact because the gift was, in and of itself, “of more worth/Than when it hath my added praise beside.” “Blame me not,” he begged, as his words fell short, “if I no more can write!” In the sonnet’s final lines, the poet falls silent at last when he realizes a better way to express his feelings: He invites the giver of the gift to gaze in silence into a mirror and to see there with her own eyes the face of generosity, which delineates so much more powerfully than words ever could the grace her gift embodies.

I invite you, too, all of you, to look deeply into the mirror and to see in the reflection there, the lines of these many great stories you have written, and the singular tale they tell about a place that is always striving for the heights—and always getting there—thanks to the grace and generosity of people like you.

In gratitude,

Ronald R. Thomas