Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reflections on Brown University and Richard Holbrooke

Last Friday, I was visited by two women from Brown University, my alma mater, from which I received 4 degrees. I had been contacted earlier by the Office of Advancement there to see whether I could schedule in the visit and despite it being the end of the semester and I was preparing for the Measuring Systemic Risk conference in Chicago, I responded that I would fit them into my schedule.

Brown University was interviewing alums who had, I was told, sufficient prominence and had interesting life stories, that were thought of as being appropriate for writeups on the Alumni website and on other advancement materials. Another Amherst resident, now retired, was another alum that was being interviewed that day and he had served as an ambassador to Iceland.

Most of my interview was taped and then many photographs were taken in my office, my supernetworks lab, and even the atrium of the Isenberg School (coincidentally, even our Dean, Dr. Mark Fuller, got a chance to meet them).

It was very special to be able to reflect on the outstanding education that I received at Brown University. I was asked about the faculty that made a difference, about why Brown was so unique, about my distinct memories, about why I continued as a PhD student at Brown, and what impressed me about Brown today. As a recipient of an undergrad degree in Applied Math and another one in Russian Language and Literature, I especially valued the intellectual openness of Brown, the collegiality among undergrads, graduate students, and faculty, and the value of multidisciplinarity and the breaking of boundaries. My passion for networks was established there.

I will write more about these topics in an additional blogpost.

Speaking of ambassadors and someone who had worked so diligently for peace in some of the most strife-ridden parts of the globe, Richard Holbrooke passed away last week. He also was a Brown University graduate, who started off as a physics major and ended up as a political science major. Coincidentally, he had also been a scholarship student at Brown, as I had been, and from Westchester (he from Scarsdale and I from Yonkers).

Sharon Otterman, writing in today's New York Times, eloquently captures the greatness of this man when she spoke of the gathering at his widow's apartment in Manhattan, that took place yesterday and that included the Clintons, Alan Alda, Matt Dillon, Al Gore, Charlie Rose, and Christiane Amanpour.

In the article, his widow, Kati Marton, is quoted as saying:

“They often say the measure of a man is in his friends,” she told the group. “Well, I think a better measure is the devotion of the people who work for him.”

They are all here, she said, gesturing to the people around her, “and they just loved working for this very demanding man.”

His last words, to a doctor, were about ending the war in Afghanistan and about peace.

Peace on earth and goodwill toward's all!