‘The Experience Changes Lives’ — Buckley Makes Gift of Education

‘The Experience Changes Lives’ — Buckley Makes Gift of Education

By Sean McDevitt

A popular misconception about student-athletes is that they receive a free education. In reality, their education is paid for through the I FUND. The I FUND provides scholarship support for more than 500 University of Illinois student-athletes in all sports. As tuition and fees steadily rise, private support for athletic scholarships is more vital than ever.

With that stated goal in mind, Linda Buckley recently stepped forward with a generous donation toward the I FUND. Recently retired after more than 15 years with the McDonald’s Corporation, Buckley served for several years on the athletic advisory board in Chicago and it was in her capacity on the board she learned about the need.

“I never really understood what the I FUND was,” said Buckley. “No one ever asked me to contribute to the I FUND. So, when I became involved with the committee I realized the purpose of the I FUND is to pay for the scholarships for the athletes.”

Her generosity helps ensure all student-athletes get the best education and continue to play their sport at the collegiate level.

In the Shadow of Memorial Stadium

While attending the University of Illinois, Buckley chose to live at Westin in the Six Pack because she thought it would be fun to be so close to Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall.

“I had season tickets with my friends to both football and basketball all four years. We weren’t very good back then, in anything quite frankly, but those were still very fun days,” said Buckley.

Illinois sports has always been a family experience with Buckley. Her brother followed her to Illinois and sports was a shared interest. Today, her nephew has just finished his sophomore year at the University.

Buckley said, “So, between him and my brother and his wife and I, somebody goes to all the football games and all the basketball games. It’s still something we all like to do, and I still gather friends together to go down at least once a year for a football game.”

Striking a Balance

Illinois athletes and programs are recognized routinely by the NCAA for success in graduation rates, Academic Progress Rate, and more.

“One of the things I’ve always been very proud of the University of Illinois is our athletes have a very good academic record and our graduation rate is much higher than it is at many other schools,” Buckley said. “I think we have appropriately merged the academic mission of the University, which, of course, is its primary mission, with our athletic programs. That balance is important to me.”

Buckley feels strongly about keeping the attention in the athletic department on the academic side of the student-athlete. “Number one we have to pay for the scholarships because, as I understand it, it doesn’t come out of the University’s budget. It comes out of the athletic department’s budget, so that has to be done.”

Additionally, she sees how a combination of academics and athletics can literally change a life.

“Being on the committee in Chicago helped me see how a combined role of academics and athletics can play in a person’s life,” Buckley said. “The percentage of student-athletes that are the first person in their family to go to a University is really high. Through the I FUND, more young people from families who might otherwise not have an opportunity to go to school, not have an opportunity to get a really good education, are able to get a world-class education at the University and that’s great for everyone.”

Reaching Further

The mission of the I FUND is to pay the scholarships and fund the academic support services for Fighting Illini student-athletes. The support the I FUND currently receives is actually not enough to pay for all the scholarships, and so other operating funds have to go toward paying for them.

“It’s why I focused on the I FUND, as opposed to some building fund, or focusing on supporting a specific sport. It seemed there were other people that were interested in doing that, but to me the scholarship side of things is most important,” said Buckley.

Buckley felt fortunate to be at a point in her life that she was able to give back to the University and she hopes others will get to that same point.

“I would like to encourage others to think about where the U of I fits into their plans,” Buckley said. “It takes just an incredible amount of money to run a high-quality athletic program. And there’s nothing we can do about that. It just does. The continual need for new facilities, for new programs, for the education support they need, et cetera, it just takes a lot of money. So, it is incumbent on us all to look carefully at how we can participate.”

Originally published at https://fightingillini.com on July 9, 2018.