Alumni Day 2019: Learning and Mentoring
By Howard Zien '71
If you are like me…
Every time I see an outstanding athletic match, a transformative musical performance, or world class lecture, I say to myself, “That is so magnificent. When I grow up, I would like to compete, to perform or to speak just like that. I am literally transported to a higher level of thought and higher level of being.
And then it occurs to me, “Hey, wait a minute”. Those athletes, those performers, and those speakers are 30, 40, even 50 years younger than I. I am already grown up.
At Alumni day 2019, I was overwhelmed with that feeling. The two featured honorees Madison medal award winner Carol Quillen *91, President of Davidson College and Wilson award winner Mellody Hobson ‘91, President of Ariel Investments stimulated, educated, motivated and gratified enrapt listeners at Alexander Hall.
Quillen was first, wearing all black. Hobson spoke second, festooned in the brightest orange dress imaginable. And their words and delivery effortlessly surpassed their appearance.
Quillen emphasized that understanding history requires that the visitor engage in extreme empathy. She was referring to both classical history as well as contemporary events.
Hobson’s presentation was both engaging and whimsical. I could not believe that 45 minutes had passed. My favorite two remarks:
When she invited her new husband to his first Princeton reunion, she emphasized the importance of wearing orange. Which he refused to do. “I hate orange,” he replied. Finally, in desperation, she explained that if he doesn’t wear orange he will stick out like a sore thumb. So orange he went. And, at the reunion, he completely understood. Blended in like one of us.
Mellody is a woman of action. But she seemed so relentlessly pleasant that it is obvious that she has no difficulty whatsoever engaging dozens of others to join her cause whatever it might be. One of her pet peeves is when companies, leaders and those who can make a difference continually say they are studying the problem or researching the problem or evaluating the problem …for years. Her favorite expression is “all right everyone, we have admired this problem long enough. Let’s take some action.
Both of the lectures can viewed here.
The Alumni Day Luncheon is the centerpiece of the weekend. The above-mentioned award winners gave brief remarks at lunch, and student award winners were given their opportunity to tell their story. And they told their stories in the most eloquent manner possible. Needless to say, when I grow up I want to be like those students.
Luncheon was followed by the Memorial Service. And after the service, the attendees from our class gathered Rockefeller College to engage approximately 20 members of the class of 2021.
We created a very large oval seating area and exchanged ideas about studies, careers and the Princeton experience.
Everyone had the opportunity to tell their story and it seemed the 21-ers were quite impressed. I was as well. As our classmates from 1971 told their stories of career and fortune, it occurred to me that this discussion format was ideally suited to not only sharing our stories with 21-ers, but also among ourselves. The 71-ers that weekend included:
- A trauma surgeon with 50 years of extraordinary, gut-wrenching (sorry about that) experiences.
- A philosophy major who picked up his computer skills at the Princeton public library and later founded a software company in NYC.
- An attorney who lived in England for 12 years and who owns a castle in the northern reaches of Scotland.
- A classmate who served corporations overseas for many years,
- A classmate who took whatever job he/she could. Then went to Harvard Business School and became chief executive of a major US corporation. Now servers on several boards of corporations.
I don’t know if the 21-ers were impressed, but I certainly was. I was thinking to myself, this is a wonderful format for our reunions even if the 21-ers aren’t there. You would think that after 50 years, we would know everything there is to know about one another. Turns out not to be true.
Driving back to NYC at the end of a longish day, I thought to myself, “When I grow up, I want to be a member of the Princeton Class of 1971.”
Classmates seen at the events of the day include: Linda Blackburn, Jeff Hammond, Jack Hittson and Ronnie, Podie Lynch, Phebe Miller, Jaime Pitney and Ginger Davis, Howard Zien.
More pictures from the day are in the Photo Gallery here.