A Tribute to Cliff Thornton’s Work at Wes

In recognition of Thornton’s long-time service to Wesleyan and his tireless dedication to financial aid and admission, the University is pleased to establish the Clifford Thornton Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship. If you’d like to make a contribution in honor of Dean Thornton, please contact Marcy Herlihy (mherlihy@wesleyan.edu/860-685-2523) in University Relations formore information. Photo By Olivia Drake MALS ’08

Cliff Thornton is associate dean of admission at Wesleyan, and has served the University and the communities of the South Central U.S., Manhattan, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Caribbean for more than 30 years, carrying his unique perspective throughout.

“Working in admission is a lot like teaching,” Thornton says. “I don’t consider it my job to make sure a student comes to Wesleyan. My job is to help them make an informed decision. Particularly with underrepresented populations, this is a big challenge and that’s a driving force for me—making sure students have the right information to make such a crucial decision.”

Thornton will retire in September, and it’s safe to say he has made a compelling case for higher education generally, and Wesleyan specifically. Wesleyan is among the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country in no small part thanks to his efforts. As he wraps up his final semester, several alumni took time to reflect on the impact he had on their lives:

  • “When you meet Cliff, you become family, and Cliff takes care of family. Though he is retiring, his legacy remains in the incredible opportunities at Wesleyan and in all the alumni, like myself, he’s helped along the way.”              —Sherry-Ann Brown ’03

  • “He did not let his engagement with students stop at the admission decision. He is a crucial stitch throughout the fabric of the University. Cliff, thank you for your words of encouragement, your vision to see things in me I didn’t see, and for being a friend. Wesleyan was made better by your many contributions.”  —Alan Smith ’90

  • “Cliff’s name is synonymous with Wesleyan, and I ultimately chose Wesleyan because of him. He has taught me that when given a seat at the table, I should let my voice be heard. Though it’s sad to see Cliff leave, he can rest knowing that his legacy extends well beyond it.”                                                                     —Nicole “Nikki” Melwood 05

  • “Cliff Thornton is why I chose Wesleyan. Instead of selling me on the institution, he spoke to my potential and the growth that would come with going to a school more than 1,200 miles away from home. He earned my trust and gave me his word that if I ever needed someone he’d be there in my corner. Ten years later, I can say he’s still there! I wish every person of color considering or going to college could have a Cliff Thornton in their corner.”     —AhDream Smith ’12

  • “As a daughter from a poor Jamaican family, the thought of going to college abroad was a dream, almost a fantasy. Cliff provided support from my college visit to the time I graduated. My mother even stayed at Cliff’s home during my graduation (as we could not afford a hotel). Cliff and Wesleyan changed my life.”                                                                                                                                  —Kim-Marie Spence ’00

  • “I know I speak for generations of alumni when I say my life and my life’s trajectory was forever changed when I met Cliff. How else would a girl from East Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York, find her way to the middle of Connecticut? Cliff leaves behind an incredible legacy built firmly on the belief that those in marginalized communities should have access to Wesleyan. And he held Wesleyan to a higher standard than our peers in this regard. Generations of students of color are indebted to him. He’s the reason that I now work in secondary education, thinking carefully about what equity and inclusion looks like at my own school.”                                                                      —LaShawn Springer ’08

  • “Cliff is someone who has had a lasting impact on my life and many others. He has gone above and beyond countless times—well above the call of duty for so many of us people of color who desperately needed it, and we are eternally grateful to him for that.”                                                                                               —Celia Santana Feinberg 90

  • “Cliff was such a great recruiter. He came to my high school in Jamaica and saw something in me that I myself didn’t see. I went to Wesleyan because of him. And I was back at Wes this past May for my 10-year reunion and as I reflected on how much Wesleyan had shaped me, I thought of how it was all due to Cliff.”                                                                                                                                —Glaister Leslie ’08

  • “Cliff just has a gift of remembering the details and making people feel special. And it’s never an effort. With the thousands of students he has met and applications he has reviewed, I think that’s pretty remarkable. He had a huge impact on my decision to attend Wesleyan, which helped shape my path, and I, along with many other students of color, am forever grateful.”                             —Venus Velez-Vann ’91

Editor, Wesleyan University Magazine