Reunions

Scott Francis
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Every five years I make a pilgrimage back to Stanford for my Alma mater’s reunion festivities.  Not everyone attends these reunions, but I have gone back every five years, and every time I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth.  This year I even met a process expert at another firm.  You can imagine our mutual surprise!  There’s a real value in these human connections, and it always saddens me when I talk to people who don’t appreciate them!

I have found that the reunions offer a few important benefits of perspective:

  1. The opportunity to reconnect with your peers and friends who attend.  No matter how good you think you are at networking, there are always people you have lost touch with that show up, that you’re glad to see.  There are always people with interesting stories to tell you.
  2. The reunion is a fundamentally optimistic event.  The current students are bright and optimistic almost by definition.  The returning alumni are excited to see how the university is evolving, and to breathe some of that fresh Northern California air.
  3. Our alumni are truly doing amazing things.  Oh, not always amazing in the way you might think – sure there are CEOs and investors and the like – but also in ways that are largely selfless and inspiring.  The 20-year teacher.  The journalist.  The professor. The public servant.  The family doctor. The author. The artist.
  4. The evolution of classmates from 5th year to 20th is impressive. So much more at peace with themselves, their place in the world, and appreciation of others.
  5. The Stanford technology quadrangle is amazing.  I can only dream of being a student in such nice facilities. A huge upgrade to our computing and technology facilities when I was in school.
  6. Stanford has also expanded off-campus.  Stanford now has prominent facilities for medical and administration off of El Camino Real and highway 101, and my understanding is that there are more beyond that.

We learned some interesting facts while we were there.  Computer Science is now the most popular major for undergraduates at Stanford.  Current students definitely consider us “old.”  The “Director’s Cup” might have been specifically designed to guarantee Stanford a sports award every year. (that last one is a joke)

Stanford also continues to excel at putting interesting conversations together.  On a Friday morning, environmentalists from left and right were put on the stage, interviewed by Leslie Stahl.  This kind of format runs the risk of putting everyone to sleep – or of never getting to any depth at all.  Somehow Stanford’s panels avoid both of those fates.  Leslie kept it all moving, and the participants were on point, and with impeccable credentials:

 Panelists are Bina Venkataraman, former senior advisor for climate change innovation in the Executive Office of the President; JB Straubel, co-founder of Tesla; Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate, an organization that acts politically to prevent climate disaster and preserve American prosperity; George Shultz, former U.S. secretary of state and distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution; Alvaro Umaña,  senior research fellow at the Tropical Agriculture Research and Higher Education Center in Costa Rica; and Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology and co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Stanford doesn’t play around when they put a panel together.  Hearing George Shultz make a conservative argument for preserving the environment was the most interesting. He took the example of the Montreal Protocols, designed to restore (or prevent the depletion of) the ozone layer.  He pointed out that some (many?) did not agree that man was affecting the ozone layer, but that the approach they took was to embrace these folks rather than vilify them.  To say look, suppose the ozone layer *is* depleted, regardless of the cause – do we agree the effects are bad?  If so, then can’t we take these modest steps to remove a possible causal factor?  He advocated for a similar approach to climate change now.

There was an interesting mix of optimism and frustration on the panel – weighted more toward optimism.  But why?  Optimism was driven by faith in new technological solutions that could reduce our impact on the environment per capita, the reduced price of solar power cells for example, and new processes for cleaning water.

 

 

 

 

 

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