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Graduation Days

In May, we had our usual four Pace University Commencement ceremonies. You probably think the Provost and I get tired of shaking hands with all those newly-minted Pace alumni, but we don’t. There is nothing like the sights and sounds of Commencement exercises.

From my vantage point on stage, I look out at thousands of graduates and their families. Our graduates’ faces display all sorts of emotions—pride, happiness, nerves, apprehension, anticipation, melancholy, and so many more. But mostly, Commencement is an incredibly happy event for everyone. Looking at each graduate, I was reminded of an old movie called The Naked City. At the end of the movie a narrator intoned, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” At Commencement, there are thousands of unwritten stories on the faces of Pace graduates, and each graduate will have a story that is unique and worth retelling.

We were very fortunate to have honorary degree recipients at each Commencement who had some extraordinary stories to tell. Each individual was very successful in his or her own right and had devoted some part of their lives to public service. Judge Robert A. Katzmann is chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and he has authored influential decisions on a wide range of cases. Emily Kernan Rafferty is the president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the museum’s first woman president in its 135-year history. George Rupp, PhD, led the world’s leading global relief agency, the International Rescue Committee, for 11 years and was president of both Columbia and Rice universities. Alumnus Michael Dezer is a businessman responsible for the development and transformation of large parts of Chelsea in New York City and virtually all of Sunny Isles, Florida. And Lawrence Otis Graham is a lawyer, a best-selling author, and a television journalist with a commitment to improving race relations in America. What a joy it was to have such a distinguished group giving our students the benefit of their experience and wisdom.

Mr. Graham asked our former students to use their Pace degrees to fight against bigotry, poverty, sexism, ignorance, and apathy. Ms. Rafferty encouraged them to see the world through the lenses of travel, literature, music, art, and poetry. Dr. Rupp advised graduates to continue to think critically, but to balance that critical approach with value-driven judgment, and Judge Katzmann spoke eloquently of the need to treat our immigrant population fairly.

Watching our hard-working, driven graduates move on is always a little bittersweet. We are, at least intellectually, in loco parentis with our students. The pride and satisfaction that attends the amazing transformation through which so many of them travel is tempered with a sense of loss. We become, at least for the moment, academic empty nesters. Our nest is soon full, however, as an academic cycle that has been going on in Western education since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088 starts anew. I hope and trust that our brand new alumni will return often and help future generations of Pace students write stories that are unique and worthy of retelling.

Last semester I attended an art exhibit in the Schimmel Lobby and a program in the theater devoted to young artists on the autism spectrum. The evening was co-sponsored by our OASIS program and the Brooklyn nonprofit Strokes of Genius, which trains and promotes artists with autism.

It was an inspiring evening. The principal speaker was Temple Grandin, PhD. She also spoke at our Convocation in 2010. Dr. Grandin has autism and her work, books and other achievements are wonderful examples of the power of the human spirit. Listening to her talk about the way in which people with autism perceive the world, we quickly see that helping artists with autism is not so much about overcoming disabilities as it is about turning differences into strengths. The power to do that is something that we all share.

The strengths of these young artists were apparent in the works exhibited in the Schimmel Lobby. Seven students in the Pace OASIS program were among the exhibitors. The artists’ strengths were also apparent in the remarks by a small group of artists who spoke about themselves and their work. One young woman explained that she had been diagnosed with autism when she was seven-years-old, that she recognized that she was different and that she was proud of her differences. Another young artist did not feel comfortable speaking to the group about his paintings, but his brother explained that the artist’s work was in the Venice Biennale, a magnet for work by the best young artists.

Training the Talents of Artists with Autism made me feel very pleased and proud of what Pace is doing in this area. The OASIS program of multifaceted support for students at Pace on the spectrum, founded by Dianne Zager, PhD and now led by Mary Riggs Cohen, PhD, is one of the best in the country. We educate and train K-12 teachers of students with autism and other disabilities; and we are a center of discussion by distinguished experts like Dr. Temple Grandin.

Friendship

Life’s lessons often come to us when we least expect them. Perhaps it is better that way, since they are more striking when we are caught off guard. I recently had two very different experiences, but the lesson was the same.

The first experience was the celebration of the life of a friend who passed away after a long illness. I had known him for about 30 years. We were not close friends, but our lives were intertwined because we were deeply involved with American Ballet Theatre at a challenging time in its evolution. In addition, one of his sons is a current student at Pace, which gave me a deeper connection to him.

The service was truly a celebration of his life. His good friends spoke of his extraordinary lust for life. He was an investment manager and was passionate about learning as much as possible about every company in which he invested his clients’ funds—not just because his clients trusted him to make wise investment decisions, but because each company genuinely fascinated him. He loved good food with an equal passion, and his never-ending search for new and wonderful restaurants was a constant source of amusement for his friends. His commitment to his other interests all benefited from his time, his intense interest, his leadership, and his generosity. But most of all, he loved people—meeting new ones, deepening and broadening his friendships with old ones, gathering them together, and going to dinners, parties, and events. He didn’t go to be seen, but to broaden his circle.

As I listened to friend after friend talk with obvious conviction and affection about the same qualities, I thought about how much I had missed by not knowing him much better than I had. I felt a similar loss after a recent discussion with a college classmate whom I had barely known in college. I had not seen him since our graduation in 1959, but we were dinner partners at a mutual friend’s house. Then we had breakfast together a few weeks later. He was such a complex, multi-faceted, and interesting man. After a stint in the Marines, he spent a year at Union Theological Seminary and then graduated from law school. He went on to a series of leadership roles not in law, but in investment banking, investment management, and in a number of nonprofit organizations. As we talked, I thought about how much I had missed by not knowing him in all those years after college.

My thoughts are not so much about these two men, although I truly wish I had spent much more time with them. Rather, my thoughts are about the need for balance in life, and the fact that this need extends to time with friends as well as family. With both friends and family, time once passed is irretrievable. We don’t get do-overs when it comes to time. We spend so much time wrestling with the demands of modern life. The search for balance is a constant struggle. One of life’s lessons is the essential truth of so many clichés—in this case “nobody ever decided at career’s end that he or she did not spend enough time at the office.”

Recently a friend invited us to see Act One at the Lincoln Center Theater. Act One is a dramatization of Moss Hart’s wonderful autobiography of the same name. The book was originally published in 1959, but it is still amazingly fresh and relevant today.

Hart was one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. He collaborated with George S. Kaufman on You Can’t Take It with You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, and other shows in the 1930s. He was also a sensitive and successful director, his credits including My Fair Lady; and an accomplished screenwriter. Hart wrote Gentleman’s Agreement, Hans Christian Andersen, and A Star Is Born.

Hart came from a desperately poor family. He had no formal schooling beyond the 8th grade and he wrote a play that was produced for Broadway at the age of 20. It was a monumental flop during its out-of-town run, but, still, no mean feat.

Act One depicts Hart’s early years, and his first successful production, Once in a Lifetime, began his long collaboration with the already very successful George S. Kaufman. Prior to the play, we were treated to an introduction to Hart and Act One by Professor Larry Maslon of the Tisch School of the Arts. I was struck by Professor Maslon’s rumination from Hart that closed his introduction: “I have had many successes and many failures in my life. My successes have always been for different reasons, but my failures have always been for the same reason: I said, ‘Yes’ when I meant ‘No.’”

Saying yes when we mean (or ought to say) no helps us avoid difficult conversations, bad news, and other unpleasant encounters. It is also a recipe for failure, in the theater and in most other endeavors.

Saying yes is almost always easier than saying no. It not only avoids the conflict and disappointment inflicted by a “No,” it responds to our need to be liked and thought of as a team player. Saying no takes greater confidence—confidence in yourself and in your beliefs. Most important, saying no puts the prime consideration—whether it is the play, the organization, or the student—first.

We talk a lot about what’s important—the value of good classroom experiences combined with opportunities for experiential learning, and setting goals and working towards them—but nothing is more important than our health and the sanctity of human life.

That’s why our recent event Mental Health and Wellness on Campus: A Town Hall Without Walls, was so important. The Jed Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, and Facebook hosted the event.

When students are anxious or depressed, their academic performance suffers, but more important, so do their lives. One out of every four young adults experiences an episode of depression before the age of 24, and nearly one-third of college students report an episode of feeling so sad or depressed in the past year that they have trouble functioning.

I was happy that Pace students practically filled the Schimmel Theatre to hear our panelists discuss these topics. We also reached another 13 million people through Twitter, and the Clinton Foundation continues to make a video of the event available to its website visitors.

Richard Shadick, PhD, director of the Pace University Counseling Center and adjunct professor of psychology, was part of the panel that discussed the prevalence, challenges, stereotypes, and dangers of prescription drug misuse, self-harm, and suicide on campus. The three most important messages Dr. Shadick and the others delivered to students were: 1) you are not the only person who gets stressed out or depressed; 2) you are not the only person who needs help to feel better; and 3) there is no stigma attached to getting help.

Dr. Shadick and his team in the Counseling Center are doing great work. The Center is nationally accredited and has received close to a half-million dollars in grants to prevent suicide and substance abuse. The Jed Foundation has also recognized our Counseling Center, awarding Pace its Jed Campus Seal of Approval. The Foundation gives the award to colleges that demonstrate strong, comprehensive solutions to students’ mental health needs.

Counseling works, but only when people use it. No one should be embarrassed or ashamed to take that first step towards mental and emotional health.

Outside of the New York City area, more Pace alumni reside in Florida, California and China than in any other locations. On our recent trip to Florida, Jennifer Bernstein, VP for Development and Alumni Relations, and I met with alumni who care deeply about Pace and support the University and our students in a variety of ways.

Brian Smith, who graduated from Pace with an MBA in 2000, is a senior managing director of First Republic Bank in Palm Beach and is very enthusiastic about Pace. Brian hosted a lunch for us with about ten wonderful Lubin and Dyson alumni and parents from the Palm Beach area. We had a fascinating discussion. Everyone was interested in hearing more about the Pace Path and curricular initiatives. The lunch was also a good opportunity for alumni to connect. Their interest in learning more about each other and exchanging ideas and information reinforced my belief in the importance of the Pace Network. Staying connected to Pace and other alumni has many benefits throughout life.

That evening we had a delightful dinner with Professor Harvey Stein and his wife Shirley, who graduated from Pace with an MBA in 1981. Harvey taught accounting as a full-time faculty member for 15 years. He was a practicing accountant and lawyer at the same time. Harvey describes his time at Pace as “among his most rewarding.” Harvey retired from Pace in 1984 to build Pencil Pushers United, Inc., one of the first successful computer-driven tax form preparation programs for professionals. In a wonderful example of the power of a Pace MBA, Shirley went back to school at Pace for that degree and served as President of the company. The Steins sold the company in 1998 and retired to Florida. Harvey then established a scholarship for an accounting student at Pace and recently funded $100,000 to name a classroom in Alumni Hall, a new residence hall being built in Pleasantville.

The next morning we had breakfast with John and Carol Anne Stiglmeier and their son Jack. John and Carol Anne are the parents of Fairleigh, a sophomore who is majoring in women’s and gender studies in Dyson. Jack is following his sister to Pace and will start in the fall as a freshman in the new BFA in Acting for Film, Television, Voice-Overs, and Commercials. John and Carol Anne (who has an impressive background in curricular planning for K-12 education) will introduce us to the secondary school acting network in South Florida. They are a terrific example of the increasingly active and involved Pace parents.

Jennifer and I ended our visit with a long and very productive lunch the next day with Peter Sacripanti, a Pace Law School alumnus who is the CEO of McDermott Will & Emery, a large and successful international law firm.

In selected areas like Florida, California, and China, there are significant needs for a senior Pace administrator, dean and/or faculty member to visit every year. When we solidify the relationships of alumni with both the University and with each other, we leverage the full power of our Pace Network.

The members of the Pace Network of successful thinking professionals care a great deal about Pace University. They’ve got great ideas how we can enhance the University experience for today’s students. Many are also interested supporting students directly—through mentoring, referrals, scholarships, and other creative opportunities. We try and get out and meet with alumni as often as possible.

Recently Jennifer Bernstein, VP for Development and Alumni Relations, and I connected with alumni, friends, and parents of current students in Florida. As always, I was struck by the important role that the University played in the lives of so many of them. Everyone was delighted when I told them how we are modernizing our New York City and Pleasantville locations. They were also very enthusiastic about the “Pace Path” because it is the modern manifestation of Pace’s historic commitment to graduate students who are ready to function as real professionals. 

I met with Don Boudreau during the trip. Don graduated from Pace with a BBA in Marketing in 1970. He rose to become Vice Chairman of JP Morgan Chase and served as a University Trustee for years. Don and his family established two endowed scholarships at Pace. He is now Trustee Emeritus, and remains deeply interested in the future of Pace. In fact, following our conversation in Florida, Don informed me that he intends to give $250,000 to the Campaign for Pleasantville. In recognition of this extraordinary generosity, we will dedicate the Susan and Donald Boudreau Student Lounge in our newly renovated Kessel Student Center in Pleasantville. Don’s life and career is a wonderful example to our students, and I am so pleased that his name will have such a prominent place on our campus for years to come.  

I also saw friends of Pace, Ellen Kramer and her husband Arthur Keyser. Both of them are active in the theater in Sarasota and elsewhere. Ellen studied theatrical lighting design in the early 80s with Chris Thomas, former Chair and Professor of Performing Arts. She established a scholarship for lighting and theatrical design students in his memory. Arthur was a successful Philadelphia lawyer and, when they retired to Florida, he began a new career as a serious playwright at the age of 80. Arthur’s work continues to be published and performed in Florida and elsewhere.

I am very proud that so many Pace students, alumni, and friends compete successfully with the best students from the best schools in America and rise to the highest levels within their professions. Don and Ellen are just two examples from our vast Pace Network who not only achieved their dreams, but who help current students achieve their dreams as well. 

More on this trip in my next post.

Reunions

Recently I attended two reunions. They were reunions of two very different groups, but both events illustrated the bonds that are often formed around hard work, shared experiences, and friendship.

The first reunion was a 50th anniversary gathering of the U.S. Supreme Court law clerks from the 1963 Term. During the 1963 Term, the Supreme Court decided the New York Times libel case (New York Times Co. v. Sullivan), the reapportionment cases (Reynolds v. Sims), and a host of other important cases. It was, for many of us, the first time we had seen each other in 50 years.

As a group, these men (in those days the clerks were virtually all men) had accomplished a great deal. About half of them were in the academy—two university presidents (Brigham Young and Pace), one provost (University of Virginia), tenured faculty members at Harvard, Yale, the University of Virginia, Berkeley, Columbia, Ohio State, and SUNY Buffalo Law Schools. Also among the group was a state Supreme Court justice, a real estate developer, and a passel of successful lawyers. I had the pleasure of recruiting one former clerk’s son for the faculty at Pace Law School.

What stood out in the experience, however, was the human side of our gathering. It was astonishing how quickly old bonds and shared experiences re-established themselves. It was an incredibly warm experience. Each of us was very proud of what the others had accomplished. People talked candidly about their failures as well as successes.

My second reunion was the annual dinner of the Pace Athletics Hall of Fame.  Four alumni became the 47th, 48th, 49th, and 50th inductees in the Hall of Fame. Inducting the Hall’s 50th member was a particularly nice touch in the 50th year of the Pleasantville campus. The new Hall of Famers had distinguished themselves in men’s football, baseball, lacrosse, and in women’s volleyball. There was also a team award for the 1984-85 women’s basketball team, and Joseph Pastore, PhD, received the Peter X. Finnerty Leadership Award, which was presented by Lubin alumni Brian Finnerty’72, Pete Finnerty’s son.

The inductees were accompanied at the dinner by family, teammates, and coaches who had shared their extraordinary achievements on the court and in the field. It was obvious from the cheering that those teammates shared in full measure pride for their teammate who received the award.

Like the clerks’ reunion, what stood out in the evening was the human side of the event. Many of the teammates had not seen each other since graduation. Again, it was astonishing how quickly old bonds and shared experiences re-established themselves. Warmth, laughter, and good feelings permeated the room; as did the pride we all shared in the accomplishments of our alumni. There is something about reunions—the coming together of those who have shared important experiences—that reaches deep into the human need for connection. They are very special events.

Many students have benefited from internship programs in the past. Yet recent court cases and reaction to these cases may mean future students may find it difficult to combine their classroom educations with real-world professional experiences.

As I recently wrote in an op-ed for The Hill, a newspaper written for and about the U.S. Congress, recent policies and actions intended to address the problem with internships both fail to address the problem and could dramatically limit the availability of this extremely valuable learning experience in the future. You can read my op-ed here — http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/203713-to-protect-students-protect-internships

If you’re looking for an education with a focus on real-world experiences, it doesn’t get any more real world than Pace’s Finance 357 class and our Student-Managed Portfolio.

Students from Finance 357 were responsible for the portfolio’s 39 percent gain in 2013. The gain was not only a great return on investment, but paid off with a first place in the “Undergraduate Growth” category at the recent Global Asset Management Education Forum. Quinnipiac University and NASDQ-OXM sponsored the event, which attracted 140 schools from more than 40 different states.

This is an incredible accomplishment and once again demonstrates that Pace students can win in competition with the best students from the nation’s top universities. Our Student-Managed Portfolio’s performance over the last five years has held its own against some Wall Street firms too. Totally managed by students, the equity portfolio was up 26 percent in 2009, up 27 percent in 2010, down 3 percent in 2011, up almost 8 percent in 2012, and up 39 percent in 2013.

Each semester students from Finance 357 inherit the portfolio from the previous semester’s class. Unlike classes that learn by managing “pretend” portfolios, Finance 357 students invest real money. Alfred Goldstein, a generous supporter of Pace University, advanced the seed money for the portfolio. Students decide on the characteristics of the stocks they would like in the portfolio and then vote on which stocks to buy or sell. They don’t need their professor or anyone else associated with the University to approve their decision. In fact, Professor Ron Filante doesn’t even voice an opinion during class discussions to ensure the portfolio remains 100 percent student managed.

Pace University excels at giving students an education that combines excellent classroom instruction with real world experiences. Congratulations to the class of Finance 357 for excelling in the very real, competitive, risky, and roller coaster investment world.