NORTH ADAMS -- Massachusetts Coll ege of Liberal Arts is redefining what it means to trail blaze.

On Wednesday night, the public four-year college launched the first major fundraising campaign in its history -- Sowing Seeds for Success has set a $22.5 million goal for college improvements and advancement. The occasion also marked MCLA President Mary K. Grant's decade of service as the head of the institution.

"We're working on the future," said Grant in a new campaign video produced by Class of 1984 alumnus Tony Dolan that was shown during Wednesday night's ceremony.

More than 100 students, faculty, administrators, staff, community leaders and state dignitaries - 10 of spoke from the podium -- turned out for the affair, held in gymnasium of the newly renovated Amsler Campus Center.

In the same video, Grant invited viewers to consider public higher education as "an investment, not an expense."

The approach has already garnered support. According to campaign co-chair, Andy Mick, a Class of 2009 alumnus and president of New England Newspapers Inc., the campaign has already reached the $17.5 million mark.

Sen. Benjamin Downing praised the college for its entrepreneurial campaign.

"Tax dollars haven't supported this work in the way it ought to," he said.

Then, speaking on behalf of the Berkshire delegation, Downing said, "Support for higher education is one of our priorities," attributing much of the motivation to Grant's leadership.

Listening in the audience were MCLA seniors like Lucy Tremblay, a business major from East Greenbush, N.Y; biology major Megan Boyer, from Clarksburg, who transferred from Ithaca College, and Tano Holmes, who grew up in Cambridge but came to MCLA to study German and anthropology.

Each student said they depended on the college to provide them a thorough, quality education with as small a financial burden as possible.

Though they will miss taking classes in the new $54.5 million Center for Science and Innovation being built and the soon-to-be-renovated Bowman Hall, Tremblay said she is "excited to see everything in the future."

Grant said already, the college has been able to raise $2 million in financial aid funds, in addition to the establishing 30 endowed funds.

The funds raised by the new Sowing Seeds for Success campaign will be used to support the growth and expansion of the college's initiatives, highlighted earlier in the evening during remarks made by Williams College President Adam Falk. He awarded Grant an honorary Williams degree this past spring.

Falk lauded his fellow liberal arts education colleague for her past decade's work in leading the college in growing the number of majors offered, attracting quality faculty, creating and renovating buildings, strengthening community ties, broadening cultural connections; advancing science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives and innovating the Berkshire Compact for Education.

"With extraordinary intelligence and determination, you have worked to remake your beloved alma mater," Falk said of Grant. She is a 1983 graduate of MCLA and the first alumna to become president.

"But we have more work to do," said Grant throughout the night.

The most resounding moment of the evening came when Grant wondered aloud how she, a working-class kid from Dorcester, could get to where she is today. She credited the impact her own institution had on her while she was a student.

Persevering through a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes, she said, "Here, we are changing lives every day, and we do it with your support. ... The challenges that we face are possible to overcome."

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