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The Alumni
In this issue's Alumni section:
Foreigner at Radcliffe - Success, 25 Years Out - Young at Harvard - Voters' Choice - Mount Harvard Club - Recordbreakers - Medalists Three - Preservationist - Sister Act - Yesterday's News

For more alumni web resources, check out Harvard Gateways, the Harvard Alumni Association's website

Success, 25 Years Out

My class's twenty-fifth reunion survey noted that 94 percent of the respondents considered themselves successful (I'll leave comments about self-selection to the pollsters). Why, then, had I agreed to opine to the experts at a symposium on "Success: How and Why Is It Different Than We Expected?"

The short answer was that classmate (and moderator) Ashton Peery asked--and to the extent his request implied that I was doing something out of the ordinary, it was flattering. And, just maybe, I would stimulate a worthwhile discussion.

The event proved far more moving than I would ever have guessed.

Leslie Harris Brown, an administrative law judge, named virtues--intelligence, bravery, perseverance--of which we talk too little. She recounted a near-fatal auto accident that led her to value each day.

Gardner Rowbotham continued the theme. Having lost his mother, maternal uncle, and several siblings to a genetic heart defect, he faced death in his early thirties. The transplant that allowed him to attend our reunion marked a very special success--and Gar quoted his doctor's quoting Winston Churchill: Success is sustaining your enthusiasm between failures.

In our reunion book, Nehama Jacobs had written of rebuilding a life with a young daughter after her husband's early death. Alixandra, 7, charmed the symposium audience--and embodied a very different, very personal, success that Nehama has had to fight corporate expectations and strictures in order to foster.

Jeff Sagansky spoke of his daily obsession with ratings and receipts as he led CBS and TriStar to notable growth and profitability. Then, at 37, came a two-month sabbatical, and revulsion at the increasingly graphic violence the mass media exploit to draw mass audiences. With Paxson Communications, Jeff hopes to develop a new network around family values that do not rely on violence for entertainment.

His comments implied a shift in focus: from achieving ratings and receipts to setting standards for how he achieved them. My guess was that many of us had similarly shifted from pursuing narrowly defined ends to a broader agenda. A show of hands confirmed that. Some had achieved a measure of fame, fortune, or power and sought a deeper meaning. Too many had confronted forces beyond our control--birth, death, health, changes in our significant others--for so narrow a definition to suffice.

With that in mind, I urged my classmates to find ways to use our great national and global wealth to alleviate our great national and global poverty. The UN's Human Development Report 1998 estimates "that the additional cost of achieving and maintaining universal access to basic education for all, basic health care for all, reproductive health care for women, adequate food for all, and safe water and sanitation for all is... less than 4 percent of the combined wealth of the 225 richest people in the world."

Lively discussion followed. Why had no one mentioned spirituality? asked a classmate. An oversight, responded Brown, Rowbotham, and Jacobs; spirituality had been crucial to enduring loss and pain and to sustaining hope. And why, asked another, had no one raised Harvard's obligations to the surrounding community as a measure of its success? Discussions continued long after the session adjourned.

Would I do it again? Absolutely--nothing so sharpens one's focus as the prospect of arguing a point publicly to an assemblage of classmates. And that heightened awareness brings home the very special privilege of engaging friends in the best sort of interchange: deeply felt, wide-ranging, a feast of learning and experience for thought.&

~ David Jonathan Cohen

David Jonathan Cohen '74, this magazine's "Undergraduate" columnist in 1973-74, is assistant director of education for the AFL-CIO.

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