Large Class Turnout for 2017 Alumni Day Enjoys Speakers and More
By Howard Zien '71, Class Treasurer
Photo credits: Alan Usas '71, Howard Zien '71
When one mentions Alumni Day, the typical reaction is always "Oh yeah, Alumni Day, isn't that the third alumni event, the one I never go to?" Of course this classmate is placing Alumni Day in a distant third place to Reunions and Homecoming.
But as this year's Alumni Day will attest, it is a mistake to speak of Alumni Day in such dismissive terms.
All of us remember a few years back when the University honored our own Mitch Daniels. This year The University honored:
- Eric Schmidt '76, Chairman of Alphabet, parent company of Google, and
- Pedro Pablo Kuczynsky *61, the President of Peru.
The typical Alumni Day format is to have the James Madison award take place first at 9am. The Woodrow Wilson Award then follows at 10:15am. Both awards and related lectures take place in the incomparable Alexander Hall. For me, Alexander hall itself conveys a sense of grandeur and spirituality that virtually ensures the gravitas and significance of even the most humble address.
Though he was the second of the two awards and speakers, I will begin my recount of Alumni Day with Eric Schmidt. The reason is that the first thing Eric said was one of the more insightful comments imaginable and it was masquerading as a simple aside or informal comment. He said that whenever anyone, faculty, student, or other, returns to Princeton, their first comment is "Wow, things have really changed".
When Eric hears this remark, his reaction is always the same. He thinks that Princeton itself is fundamentally the same. It is the speaker himself or herself who has changed in the intervening year, or 5 years or 10 years in both subtle or profound ways.
I confess that I never thought of it that way, but he was absolutely right. I, as a professional in a similar field to Eric, have another confession to make. After he left Princeton and held a few jobs before becoming an instrumental part of Google, Eric has had an indelible impact on our world and has also accumulated a net worth of $10 Billion. Me. I am a distant second in both categories.
Eric made another comment during his address that resonated with me in a profound way. It was uttered in the context of self-driving cars. If you are like me, I cannot imagine that cars will actually drive themselves, but, at the same time, I am pretty confident that this will happen someday in the not too distant future. What Eric said was that "traditionally people have limited or faulty memory but excellent judgment." Computers have the opposite, excellent memory but limited judgment and decision-making skills. Eric went on to say that people and computers will be changing strengths and related roles. The computer judgment will far exceed our own.
Had I learned nothing else at this Alumni Day, these two insights from Eric Schmidt would have made the day worthwhile.
But President Kuczynsky's address was equally as rewarding as Eric's. President Kuczynsky (the 78 year old President of Peru) spoke first and his address was a masterpiece of informality as well as insight and substance. If you are wondering how a person of this surname becomes President of a Latin American country, he was born in Peru to a Polish father and French mother.
On his way to Princeton, on Friday, he made a detour to 1600 Pennsylvania in Washington DC to visit with the current resident there and to engage in chief executive small talk. During his Alumni Day address, he punctuated his remarks with some humorous, diplomatically worded references to this prior day visit.
As I listened to President Kuczynsky's remarks, I kept thinking to myself how remarkable it is that a country or 32 million people, many of whom have very limited education, can see their way clear to elect such an intelligent, team-playing, respectful individual as President Kuczynksy. This was clearly an example of the triumph of insight and knowledge over charisma. His education was Oxford and Princeton. His previous jobs, after all, were the World Bank, minister of mines and energy, finance minister, cabinet member. He also worked in international banking and private equity.
It is instructional to compare him and his background to any president of any country. But the most striking comparison is between him and the leadership in near-by Venezuela. With President Kuczynksy in charge, Peru is on the ascent, whereas Venezuela appears to be in a death spiral.
Later in the afternoon, the always moving Memorial Service recognized our Classmates who died during the past year: John Hess, William James, McNeill Watkins, and Anthony Wofford.
Before concluding, I do want to say a few words about our class turnout at this year's Alumni Day. We filled two round tables, which is quite an accomplishment. This turnout laid the foundation for spirited conversation and reengagement. Seen on campus that day were: Linda Blackburn, Rich DiFedele and Maria, Paul Fitzgerald, Jack Hittson and Ronnie, Podie Lynch, David Lyon, Ray, Ollwerther, Bill Stevens, Gerry Uehlinger, Alan Usas and Karen, Carla Wilson, and Howard Zien.
And I would be remiss if I did not say that for late February, the weather was as informal, relaxing and engaging as the two honorees. In all directions, undergraduates could be seen lounging around in shorts and short sleeve shirts. The cold February wind was as far away as the year 1971 itself. I didn't see any Frisbee throwing which might have been taking place in our day, but as you know, "Wow has the campus changed. "
See more about the 2017 Alumni Day: