Amid the camera flashes, hugs and cheers on Commencement day, Polly and Terry O’Toole VSB ’80 beamed with pride at their two graduates. Alex Alberti ’19 COE and Mafatta Janeh ’19 CLAS aren’t their children, but they are undoubtedly part of the O’Toole legacy at Villanova.
In 2013, the couple committed to a $10 million gift to establish the endowed O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship — Alex and Mafatta were the first recipients. “This day is a dream come true for us. We couldn’t be prouder to have you be the first O’Toole Scholars to graduate from Villanova,” Terry O’Toole told the graduates as they shared brunch together. “Hopefully you’re the first of 100 to come through this program.”
This unique promise scholarship model— the first of its kind at Villanova — gives two high-potential, high-achieving high school sophomores from the Archdiocese of Newark , N.J., the opportunity to attend Villanova with all expenses paid for four years.
“When opportunity and promise meet, a spark is created,” explains J. Leon Washington, Villanova’s dean of Enrollment Management. “The vision was to look for young persons who had promise but who may not have encountered this type of opportunity.” That vision belonged to Washington’s predecessor, the late Stephen Merritt ’78 CLAS, who came up with the idea when the O’Tooles approached him with their desire to do something different and distinctive.
“Unfortunately Mr. Merritt passed away our freshman year, so he didn’t get to see it come to fruition,” Alex says. “But he helped get it started, which I am really thankful for because a scholarship like this is immeasurable. This moment has been seven years in the making, and it feels like only yesterday I was interviewing for it.”