Don’t let anyone put a limit on what you can do,” Donovan told the kids attending his first basketball camp, which was held at GCDS in June 2018 following his breakout rookie season in the NBA.
Donovan has lived those words. In high school, when his grades needed to improve, he refocused and put in the work. At Louisville, when he was averaging 7 points per game in his freshman year, he didn’t give up. He went to the gym. On Friday nights, while others went out to parties, he’d often go and shoot by himself.
His character and connection with family have been an essential part of that journey. Long before making it to the League or winning the 2018 NBA Slam Dunk Contest or being selected as a 2020 NBA All-Star, Donovan had an open-hearted way of inspiring the success of others.
In 2012, just days before his ninth grade graduation, Donovan looked back on one of his experiences at GCDS: the opportunity to be part of the peer leadership program and volunteer as a teacher assistant in P.E. classes, instructing younger students in soccer, basketball, and baseball. At the time, he said, “I know the kids look up to me, so I try as much as possible—especially during basketball—to help them out.” His advice was specific to each player—helping Chaz, a sixth grader, focus on slowing down when taking a layup or working with Christo on shot mechanics.
As a student at GCDS, in addition to being a star athlete in both baseball and basketball, Donovan was also an exceptional musician, playing drums in the band. Head of School Adam Rohdie recalled, “As great an athlete as he was, Donovan was an even nicer young man. He is a man of the highest character and has lived his life embodying the Country Day commitment to Tiger Pride, which asks our students to be kind, empathetic, respectful, thoughtful, and to act with the highest levels of integrity.”
In a postgame with Mr. Rohdie center court at Barclays on November 11, 2017, when asked what he remembered most about GCDS, Donovan said, “Being the best teammate possible. I think that Tiger Pride is something that carries into your actual life. If I hadn’t gone to Greenwich Country Day, I don’t think it would have been as important to me.” Looking up into the stands at more than 100 GCDS faculty and staff who had come to cheer him on, Donovan added, “It’s awesome to have you guys come out. I really appreciate it; you never forget where you came from.”
Today, Donovan is inspiring people across the country and around the world—not just to become better basketball players but to become better people. “One thing that I know just from my own personal experience is that this is bigger than basketball. My legacy has to be more than that,” he wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “When I was growing up, there were so many people who helped me get to where I am, and they didn’t want anything in return—whether it was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Pierce, who helped us out with clothes sometimes, or my friends from Greenwich who used to pay for my lunch when we were out together, or my mom, who probably sacrificed more than my sister and I will ever know.”
A leader on and off the court, Donovan was selected in November 2020 as one of the five members of the National Basketball Players Association to serve on the inaugural board of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, established to lead the NBA and NBPA’s collective efforts to advance equality and social justice. He was also invited to speak with VP-elect Kamala Harris on the importance of voting and education. During the conversation, Donovan noted, “The great thing about the League is that we’re making a huge push to go out and vote—focusing on education, finding ways to inform and give back to the community. My mom—being a teacher—she’s instilled that in me. I wanted to be able to give back knowledge.”
Donovan is also taking action to remove limits that stand in the way of young people gaining access to a great education and the opportunity to excel. This December, Donovan and his family—sister Jordan, GCDS ’17, and mom Nicole—pledged $12 million, the largest gift in the school’s history, to support GCDS student scholarships, a teacher support fund, and a new athletic center. Donovan shared, “I know how lucky I have been to have the foundation of my education happen here at Country Day. This school has shaped who I am in so many ways, and I feel blessed to be able to give back and make the Country Day experience available for more kids, especially those from inner-city neighborhoods or with backgrounds like mine. Over the past few years on my NBA journey, I have made it my mission to champion the causes of equity, social justice, and equal opportunity, especially in education. There is no better school anywhere to carry forward this mission, and my family is excited to make this happen.”
The Mitchell Family Scholarship Fund will help GCDS remain a leader in providing need-based aid for students in Nursery through Grade 12. Additionally, Donovan and Nicole announced the Nicole Mitchell Faculty Support Fund. At the opening faculty meeting each year, this monetary award will be given to four teachers—one from each division of the school—who have been at GCDS for at least three years and have demonstrated the passion, enthusiasm, optimism, and love for children always shown by Nicole Mitchell. “These two funds perfectly highlight Donovan’s understanding of the power of a great education,” noted Head of School Adam Rohdie. “This gift will allow GCDS to reach an even broader cross-section of students, and it allows us to celebrate those teachers that make the magic at our school every day.”
From 2007 until just last year, Nicole taught at GCDS in the Lower Elementary School, following a career in business. Mr. Rohdie describes her as one of the warmest and most caring educators he has worked with, and generations of Country Day’s youngest children have been impacted by her kindness, her deep understanding of the value of education, and her character.
Donovan’s younger sister Jordan, GCDS Class of 2017, was also a star athlete at Country Day and now attends American University, where she plays lacrosse. Jordan, too, has stayed connected with the school and was one of the 11 alumni who joined Ms. Donnalley on the 2019 service trip to Rwanda, where they helped to construct a school in Cyabatanzi as part of a multi-year project in partnership with the local community. Returning from the trip, Jordan reflected on how much it meant to help others attend school: “The most meaningful thing for us was playing with the children and seeing how happy they were to be going to school.”
Commitment to education is a core part of the Mitchell family experience and of the values that Nicole has instilled in both Donovan and Jordan. That commitment is reflected in the way Donovan and his family give back in support of students, teachers, and access to education—through their gift to GCDS, as well as in their broader philanthropic work through Donovan’s foundation Spidacares and efforts in collaboration with adidas and others.
In addition to providing scholarships and establishing a teacher support fund, the Mitchell family’s gift to GCDS will also enable the school to build the Determination Over Negativity Mitchell Family Athletic Center. The D.O.N. will be a state-of-the-art gymnasium with an NCAA-regulation court and full stands on both sides. When the bleacher seating is retracted and dividing curtain is lowered, the gym will have two full courts running north to south. The D.O.N. will also provide a much-needed gathering space where the entire GCDS community from Nursery to Grade 12 can come together for school-wide assemblies.
“Determination Over Negativity is a belief that anything is possible no matter who you are or where you come from,” said Donovan. The gym, scholarships, teacher support fund—all these transcend basketball. They are part of Donovan’s journey that is about excellence on the court—and those amazing Spida dunks!—and also about so much more: the power of education, the importance of family, the values of Tiger Pride, the courage to speak up in support of equality and social justice, the generosity to provide opportunities that make the world better for today’s youth.
Donovan’s story is just beginning. We are grateful that the Mitchells are part of the GCDS family. As friends and role models they have touched the lives of hundreds of Tigers. Now, through this gift, they will change the lives of thousands of Tigers in the decades to come. In turn, those Tigers will continue to carry forth the values of Tiger Pride and be inspired by Donovan’s example and legacy.