The intense debate about economic inequality in America is a highly necessary exercise. Inequity has a harmful impact on all aspects of national life so addressing it should be every American’s priority. But the tone of the discussion is a bit too negative at times. It takes knowing how bad things can really get in life for us to appreciate what we have.

When I was growing up in Ghana in the 1960s and ‘70s, the country had a rather strange education system. Primary and middle schools were government-funded so all parents, including the extremely poor who lived in villages, could send their children to school. Tertiary education was similarly state-financed and students attended tuition-free. But for some inexplicable reason, secondary schools charged tuition. Making matters worse, they were all boarding institutions that were located in the big cities and towns.

That configuration made secondary education inaccessible to most children from poor families, particularly those who lived in villages. Such children completed middle school, if they were lucky, and then either worked on their parents’ farms or found unskilled, low-paying jobs elsewhere. Formal employment opportunities were quite scarce anyway so tens of thousands of youngsters simply roamed around villages and towns with little to do. Some inevitably resorted to petty crimes to survive.

Francis Webatoare is one of the central characters in my memoir, The Boy from Boadua. He had an exceptionally brilliant mind, one of the best that I’ve known in all my travels around the world. He was also my best friend in primary and middle school in Boadua, the small village in southern Ghana where we grew up. Both of our lives were supposed to follow the familiar script, but a series of miraculous happenings took me out of the village to secondary school, then college in the Soviet Union, graduate schools in America, followed by three decades and counting of professional work in corporate America.

Luck never smiled on Francis. I could never match his brilliance, but somehow I was the one who managed to leave Boadua and its crushing poverty. He spent all those decades in that village with little to do, until his death about five years ago.

I have never stopped thinking about him since I left Boadua in 1975. Hardly a day goes by without me wondering what could have happened with that brilliant mind of his. I will forever be haunted by how his life turned out.

I instantly thought about Francis after I read the announcement that Dartmouth just received a donation of more than $150 million from an alumnus, a gift aimed at making a Dartmouth education accessible to students from poor and middle-income families. It is said to be the largest-ever scholarship bequest in the college’s 255-year history. According to Dartmouth President Sian Beilock, because of this donation, the family income limit that qualifies for “zero parent contribution” attendance will nearly double from the current $65,000 to $125,000, and will be the most generous threshold in the nation.

Critics often say that giving such enormous sums of money to already wealthy schools like Dartmouth perpetuates economic inequality. Full disclosure: I obtained graduate degrees from Dartmouth College and Purdue University, two institutions that are frequent recipients of large donations from alumni. I have therefore benefited from these generous gifts so I may be a bit biased. Nevertheless, I genuinely believe that this practice is not as problematic as some people view it, for three reasons.

First, a majority of these donors are people who started life with nothing, just like most of us did. They always attribute their success to the education and opportunities the recipient institutions provided them. We should allow people the freedom to express their gratitude in such manner if they so wish.

Second, the resources derived from these gifts are made available to all, not just the wealthy. By nearly doubling the family-income threshold for applicants to qualify for practically debt-free education, Dartmouth is aiming to significantly expand its tent to attract students from all walks of life. A Francis-type child growing up anywhere in America today, regardless of their race, religion or socio-economic background, can take advantage of this opportunity.

Third, and perhaps most important, these wealthy donors, the so-called one-percenters, pay the bulk of federal, state, and local taxes. According to data published by Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax policy nonprofit, for tax year 2021 (the last year for which complete data are available), federal income taxes paid by individuals totaled $2.2 trillion. The data show that the top 1 percent of taxpayers paid 45.8 percent of that total. The share of the top 5 percent was 65.7 percent, while the top 10 percent paid 75.9 percent. The top 50 percent of taxpayers paid 97.7 percent of the total, while the bottom half paid only 2.3 percent. Clearly, what the ultra-wealthy contribute to the broader society dwarfs the donations they give to their alma maters. Those federal, state, and local taxes help fund education, healthcare, and the various social programs that cater to all Americans.

I was hired to teach in a K-12 public school system shortly after I came to America in 1992. I was quite surprised to learn then that American children qualified for subsidized or free breakfast and lunch at school if their families were too poor to pay for them. That would have been a godsend for me when I was growing up in Ghana. I was one of 14 children in my family, and my illiterate parents didn’t have the means to feed that many mouths so we never had enough to eat at home. I frequently went to school on an empty stomach.

America surely has some massive social, economic, and political problems. But, having seen a lot of the world, I also know that this society gets a lot of things right. Its generosity, spirit of volunteerism and many other virtues inspire people all across the globe. For that, I am extremely proud of this nation that I am now privileged to call home. We should celebrate our positives while working hard to right our wrongs. And, we should be careful about how we present ourselves to the rest of the world because others are looking up to us as a beacon of hope. May God continue to bless America.