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.”

Life Lessons from Moss Hart

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.

Staying healthy applies to mental health too

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.

Connecting with members of our Pace Network

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.