The name “Rockefeller” has long been associated with philanthropy, and an openly gay member of the famed family is continuing that legacy in Philadelphia.
Rick Rockefeller-Silvia, 25, moved to the city this past fall and, recently announced plans to launch a scholarship fund that will allow local LGBT and ally students to pursue their educational goals while learning more about the world and themselves.
The Rockefeller-Silvia Dream Endowed Scholarship, funded through the Rockefeller-Silvia Estate Trust, will enable college students from the Greater Philadelphia area to study for a semester in Europe, an experience Rockefeller-Silvia said he found beneficial.
Growing up, Rockefeller-Silvia — whose mother, Donna Rockefeller Deyoung Simpson, is the great-great-granddaughter of billionaire oil entrepreneur John D. Rockefeller — spent summers in New York City and winters in Palm Beach, Fla., and attended boarding school in Geneva, Switzerland. During college, he lived in several places throughout Europe, and said he’s eager to assist other students in attaining the same personal growth he experienced during his travels.
Rockefeller-Silvia said he came out to his family when he was an adolescent and didn’t see much resistance from either his father or mother — whom he noted had been married twice to gay men before she married his father.
“I came out really young, just prior to ninth grade, and that was really just when I realized that there was a name for what I was,” he said. “But I told my parents right off the bat, it was never a secret, so for me it wasn’t really a traumatic experience at all.”
Rockefeller-Silvia noted, however, that contending with the pressures of being gay in the classroom environment was more of a challenge.
“When I was growing up and in school — and I think a lot of gay people can relate to this — I just felt like I didn’t fit. I was uncomfortable, and it made education hard and it was distracting. I went to a private, all-boys boarding school, which I think was a little bit easier, as co-ed learning in my opinion can actually cause more friction, but it was still a struggle,” he said.
He noted that visiting different parts of Europe and being exposed to diverse populations helped him to more readily accept himself.
“I really felt that with my studying abroad, I got a better sense of who I am and was more comfortable after seeing different cultures and how people interact,” he said. “So I thought it’d be fantastic to allow students to go to Europe and have that studying experience.”
Rockefeller-Silvia said students applying for the scholarship will be asked to write a persuasive essay on a topic related to LGBT rights, and the winner will be selected by a panel of businesspeople and entrepreneurs. He said he’s compiling a list of recommended locales — such as Sardinia, Italy, where he studied for a semester and which he said was “one of the best experiences of my life” — to guide the student in his or her choice.
“I’m sure their experience will be unique from mine, but I think they’ll be able to take something with them that will be valuable for the future,” he said.
Besides overseeing the scholarship fund, Rockefeller-Silvia, a model and an award-winning equestrian rider, is planning to continue to expand his sporthorse breeding company, Dream Street Stallions, which he relocated from Florida to Chester County, prompting his move to the city.
“What we do is bring over stallions that Americans normally wouldn’t have access to their bloodlines and import them from Europe,” he said. “And in Chester County we have 500 acres, as opposed to 4 in Florida, which will be great.”
Rockefeller-Silvia, who’s also a board member at Equine Rescue Fund, said that before he moved to his penthouse on Sansom Street two months ago, he’d visited the city for the annual Devon Horse Show.
He said he hasn’t had much chance to get involved in the local LGBT community, but was immediately struck by the Gayborhood and the rainbow street signs that identify the area.
“It’s so unique that there’s this whole neighborhood,” he said. “It gives you that sense of community that wasn’t there in places I’ve lived before. I lived on the Upper East Side in New York as a child, as well as the metro area of Washington, D.C., which is just a melting pot of everything, and then in Europe I was always in an educational setting so it was a little different.”
He said he’s still exploring his options for other LGBT or mainstream ventures to undertake, but added he’s “definitely interested” in getting more involved in the local community.
“I know a limited amount of people right now, but it’s definitely something I’m open to. And, being in the city, I’d love to do something that’s also not just fundraising but more interactive with the community.”