Jacklyn Boney Bruce ’99 could have stayed in Virginia and attended a number of schools, including historically Black colleges nearby, for an excellent education. But a visit to Princeton planted a different idea; campus and Nassau Street reminded her of her Richmond hometown, making her comfortable enough to branch out beyond familiar borders.
As she describes it, Princeton enriched her in experiences she continues to appreciate, from a freshman seminar in which she rethought what she knew about the civil rights movement, to a class with journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson that reconfigured her grasp of her family’s history, to encounters with fellow students that expanded her understanding of her Black identity.
Since majoring in politics and earning a certificate in African American studies, Boney Bruce has added a law degree and dabbled in several food marketing ventures, as well as in publishing and advertising. For the past decade, she has taught history, economics and personal finance in the international baccalaureate program at Richmond’s Thomas Jefferson High School and at Open High School.
Boney Bruce’s Princeton experiences gave her the confidence to follow where her interests led. Now she wants to ensure that future Princeton students have the same possibility. She joined the 1746 Society with a bequest intention that will benefit the Department of African American Studies.
“I’ve had a lot of wonderful experiences at Princeton,” she said. “When I decided that I wanted to give, the only limitation that I wanted was for my funds to go to African American studies.”
At an alumni event featuring Toni Morrison, the Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities and Nobel Prize-winning author, Boney Bruce remembers noting a comment by former University trustee Ruth Simmons (the namesake for a senior thesis prize Boney Bruce earned) — that a $10,000 gift had made Morrison’s first visit to Princeton possible. It motivated Boney Bruce to think broadly about what her future gift might do, even on a public school teacher’s salary.
“That $10,000 might be a lot to ask someone to write a check for at one time, but it’s not necessarily so if you’re bequeathing it,” she said.
Perhaps Boney Bruce’s eventual gift will be used for visits like the one that brought Morrison to campus. Maybe, she said, it will sprout further efforts to digitize works by African Americans, making them more accessible. When the time comes, Boney Bruce said she hopes her bequest will allow the Department of African American Studies to innovate: “They can figure out the best way to use those funds with what the needs may be 10, 20 or 50 years from now. … You're really just thinking about planting seeds. You don’t always know what’s going to flourish and how, but you know, based on what you’ve seen, that the potential is there,” she said.
“I just want students who come after me to have the same kinds of experiences [as I had].”
Preparing for tomorrow
Boney Bruce values how Princeton prepared her for more than a specific career. “The way that we’re taught [at Princeton] to think and approach issues and life, that’s really portable,” she said. “We can be anywhere; we can impact any situation.”
Her freshman seminar with Nancy Weiss Malkiel, now an emeritus history professor, is a case in point. Growing up in a predominately Black city that has been home to several Black mayors and leaders, Boney Bruce thought she knew quite a bit about the civil rights movement. But the seminar’s deeper dives into literature, with the opportunity to consult primary sources in Firestone Library, pushed her to reevaluate and ask new questions.
This mindset is what she now tries to pass on to her high school students and wants to reinforce for future Princetonians through her bequest.
“For me, it has been eye opening, but also helpful, because now when I go to bed at night, I feel like this is going to be a wonderful opportunity for the future. I think that’s what all of us who are optimistic about the future want to do.”
The 1746 Society, named for the year in which the University was founded, gratefully acknowledges benefactors whose estate gifts to the University show that the future of Princeton was close to their hearts. Anyone who notifies Princeton that the University is named as the beneficiary of a gift through his or her estate, or through a planned gift during his or her lifetime, is automatically enrolled. To learn more, please contact the Office of Gift Planning at 609.258.6318 or email GiftPlanning@princeton.edu.