Kenneth T. Cascone's Report on AYA Spring 2001 Alumni Leadership Convocation Session on 300 Years of Creativity and Discovery
Yales powers-that-be did their utmost to dazzle returning alumni from Thursday night April 19 through Sunday morning April 22 for this event. The cast of characters leading the parade were stars and celebrities in their own right. The curriculum itself was loaded with entertainment and enlightment. Only the food served in the Commons, residential colleges and the Payne Whitney Gym disappointed. The Tercentennial clearly shaped the program and the participants.
It started on Thursday night with a concert. The performers were The Yale Symphony, The Yale Glee Club, The Yale Philharmonia and The Yale Camerata. From all reports, it was a grand success, enjoyed by nearly everyone.
The Convocation geared up in earnest on Friday morning in the Art Gallery lecture hall. Professor Gaddis Smith, Yales renowned American historian, bemused us with a history of alumni impact on Yale affairs for the past three centuries. Surprisingly, alumni have directly intervened to affect the universitys course over the years from academic curriculum to admission policies. A former AYA executive director, Eustace D. Theodore 63 discoursed on the trends in alumni-university relations and the probable effects of digital information technology and the internet.
Next, we were introduced to the candidates for AYAs Board of Governors. Our own Bill Boyer, representing The Cleveland Yale Club, was busily campaigning for one of the eleven slots. Yours truly advertised his candidacy all weekend with a huge Bill Boyer button pinned to my sports jacket lapel. Bill and I skipped the luncheon at Commons that afternoon in which Yale Medals were dispensed to deserving souls for the more comfortable environs of Morys. There, we had a tasty lunch with Bills bride, Martha, plus Terry Shockey of the Class of 1961 and his wife, Barbara.
The early afternoon academic sessions featured the separate choices of: (i) Yales resident literature genius Harold Bloom speaking on the poetry of Robert Penn Warren; (ii) Guido Calabresi, a former Yale Law Professor and now Federal Circuit Court judge, exploring the Legacy of Leadership in the Courts, (iii) Jonathan Spence, Yales Sterling Professor of History, discussing Yales involvement with China for three centuries, (iv) Vincent Scully, the noted art historian, on Urban Architecture; or (v) a quartet of lecturers elaborating on Yale and biotechnology.
I was thrust into the poetry class where I was clearly out of my depth. Unfamiliar with Robert Penn Warrens work, I and a substantial majority of fellow alumni were dazed by Blooms comparative analysis (Emerson, Shelly, Eliot etc.). We were simply unprepared and overwhelmed by the material. Bloom also read his lecture at record - breaking speed, making it even more difficult to follow. However, reports from other alumni indicated the performances of Messrs Calabresi and Scully earned high marks.
Later that afternoon, in Woolsey Hall, President Richard Levin, an economist by profession, conversed with Bob Rubin, Clintons Secretary of Treasury, and Janet Yellon, his chairman of The Council of Economic Advisors. They reviewed a number of issues and policies that arose during the Clinton Era from Social Security reform, to the Mexican financial crisis, to foreign trade and prevailing interest rates. It was both enlighting and impressive.
That evening, also held in Woolsey Hall, the musicians at Yale took center stage. In a tercentennial tribute to music at Yale entitled "Light Blue", a variety of groups entertained us with songs, instrumentals and cheers.
Each performance was admirable and inspiring.
For the first academic session on Saturday morning, the choices were even more extensive. The topics covered included rare books, slavery, democracy, technology, medicine, football, art, investment, literary criticism, mathematics, scientific discovery, legal education, womens issues, theater, photography, music or environment. I opted for technology. An advisor to four presidents and a media expert, David Gergen, Class of 1963, interviewed Donna Dubinsky, Class of 1977. Donna was a co-founder of the company that produced the Palm Pilot. Through incisive yet amicable questioning by Mr. Gergen, she presented us with a candid, articulate chronicle of the obstacles, strategies and opportunities confronting a highly-entrepreneuial enterprise. Her insights and related experiences made a perfect case study for any business school class.
During the next morning session, lectures were offered in biotechnology, paleontology, literature, mathematics, business leadership, environmental journalism, southern history, sexual harassment, art, cognitive science, theater, rowing, philanthropy, theological education, music or medicine. I chose literature. Three Yale professors lectured on literature written over 300 years by key Yale men. A book with samples of their writings had been prepared for the tercentennial and is available for sale.
We heard about the likes of Jonathan Edwards, Sinclair Lewis, Thorton Wilder and David McCullough, who happened to be sitting in the audience. One lecturer closed with a musical recording of Cole Porter singing his own creation, "Youre the Tops." Nostalgia and rhythms energized the older alumni as they kept time to the music.
Although there were numerous choices in the early afternoon, I attended a lecture conducted by the Dean of the Architecture School on Yale and Redefining Modern Architecture. I was fascinated and enlightened at that same time.
Then the highlight of the weekend a public conversation with former President George Bush about the foreign policy landmarks of his administration the fall of the Berlin Wall, the unbundling of the Soviet Union and lastly the Gulf War. Under questioning from President Levin, Professor Paul Johnson, a woman graduate student from Bulgaria and the captain of Yales football team, President Bush regaled us with insights and anecdotes about those events and the personalities who played a role. His good judgment, apt sense of self and humor and overall decency emerged to impress nearly every one. Moreover, he eloquently made the case for public service. With standing ovations, it was evident these graying alumni could not get enough of George and Barbara Bush. Even the liberal democrats in the audience heartily applauded them. It was truly a Bush-Love Fest.
As remarked earlier, the only real sour note of the weekend turned out to be the food. Usually uninspiring, sometimes loaded with cholesterol and occasionally hard to identify, it brought these elated alumni back down to earth and reminded them about another aspect of their bright and no so bright college years. All in all, I felt privileged to attend this splendid event. Thank you for the honor of representing you.
Post Script Class of 1962 members also in attendance were Bill Boyer, Steve Sussman, Bob Rosenkranz, Mike De Havenon, Don Pillsbury, Larry Lipsher and Kirk MacDonald.