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“Describe a day in the life of a typical Athenian.” John Bulgozdy (A.B. 1981, Law 1984) vividly remembers the exam question from one of his favorite undergraduate courses on Greek history taught by Professor Chester Starr. “I remember looking at it, thinking it was a great question, and also knowing that I needed to pick a different one,” laughed Bulgozdy.
Yet now, as he reflects on his twenty-four year career as a trial attorney with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Bulgozdy, who majored in history and economics, notes how constructing a legal argument mirrors the work that historians do—piecing together fragments of the past to reconstruct events that took place over days, months, even years—and just how much his LSA education had to do with his success.
"I eventually figured out that being a trial lawyer is very much like being a historian—and a writer, a director, and a producer,” he said. “We take something that happened in the recent past which people are fighting about because they disagree on the facts. So the lawyer has to dig up evidence of what happened in the past, and put it together to tell a story. Who knew being a lawyer would be multidisciplinary?”
Recognizing that his undergraduate liberal arts education at the University of Michigan was a major stepping stone that “helps prepare you to go through life,” with multi-faceted knowledge and problem solving skills, Bulgozdy recently documented bequests to both the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA) and the University of Michigan Law School as his way of giving back. His planned gift to LSA will establish the Bulgozdy Scholarship to provide need-based scholarship support to undergraduate students, in tribute to his parents.
“My father was a World War II veteran who put himself through college by working multiple jobs, then pledged to pay college tuition and room and board for four years for me and each of my siblings,” he said. “I was fortunate not to have had to worry about the big college bills and wanted to provide that chance for others.”
Translating a personal journey into meaningful impact
Bulgozdy’s planned gift also qualifies for a $10,000 cash match from the college through the LSA Legacy Match Challenge, which matches up to 10% of a new or increased documented planned gift. Challenge funds are intended to make an immediate impact on the college and its students, and can be directed to any expendable LSA fund. Bulgozdy selected the LSA Department of History Strategic Fund as his match beneficiary, in recognition of Starr, the “acknowledged dean of ancient history in America,” and two other esteemed University of Michigan history professors who were influential in his academic journey—John W. Eadie, eminent scholar of Roman history who went on to serve first as the associate dean of U-M’s Rackham Graduate School, then the dean of MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, and Thomas A. Green, a criminal law historian, who taught English and American legal history to students at both LSA and Michigan Law.
“Professors Starr, Eadie, and Green had a major influence on me—and ultimately they were why I wanted to include the College of LSA in my estate plan,” Bulgozdy said.
“They brought the history to life, that enthusiasm stayed with me.”
Each distinguished in his own field, they shared an approach to teaching that went beyond dates and events to bring history to life by examining the experiences of the regular people who lived it. It fostered in Bulgozdy an enduring appreciation for the study of history—and expanded the analytical thinking skills that proved key in his profession as a trial attorney.
“One of the things that sets Michigan—and LSA—apart is the caliber of the teaching. I found and was able to embrace a love of learning in large part because I was engaging with professors who were the top experts in their fields,” he remembered. “And they were approachable, accessible to us as undergraduates. It really is an extraordinary college experience and I am very excited to make this investment in preserving the richness of the liberal arts in LSA for future generations.”
“Support from alumni donors like John Bulgozdy helps us teach young people to understand the world in which they live and prepare them for careers in government, law, business, medicine, journalism, education, and many other walks of life. Above all, we want our students, both undergraduate and graduate, to understand the power of an LSA History degree as well as the ways in which the study of history contributes to shaping thoughtful and informed citizens,” said Angela Dillard, LSA Department of History chair, University of Michigan vice provost for undergraduate education. “Foremost, we want them all to have transformative educational experiences, like Bulgozdy’s, that continue to enrich their lives—and the lives of others—for decades to come.”
A tax-saving start that can help LSA students right away
Bulgozdy elected to begin funding the Bulgozdy Scholarship in December 2023, making his first contribution through an IRA distribution.
“Once I realized I had the option to start funding the scholarships right away, I thought about what a great opportunity it was to see the difference the Bulgozdy Scholarship could make for LSA students in my lifetime,” he said. “I didn’t want to delay.”
Donors who are at least 59½ years old can make a distribution gift from their IRA without penalty, and take a charitable deduction for the amount of the gift when itemizing tax deductions. Additional options for IRA giving become available to individuals when they reach 70½ years old, with benefits that include satisfying the required minimum distribution (RMD), and reduced annual income levels which may help lower Medicare premiums and decrease the amount of Social Security that is subject to tax. Best of all, the gift can be put to use by the university right away, allowing the donor to witness the impact of their philanthropy.
No matter your age, you can designate the University of Michigan as the beneficiary of all or a percentage of your IRA and it will pass to the university tax-free after your lifetime. Learn more about making a gift with your IRA.