Posted by: scott | April 2, 2010

playing a different octave

I had the rare opportunity to have dinner with NYU President John Sexton today (along with about 25 other students), and I have to admit that it was a surprisingly enjoyable time. From the stories that he told, I gather that he must be about 68 years old now, and it seems like he’s really had an adventurous and fulfilling life. From the time he was in a Catholic high school in Brooklyn in the 1950’s, to dropping out of Fordham College to coach a girl’s high school debate team to 5 national championships funded on his own dime, to earning a PhD in religion and becoming the chair of the department, to meeting his wife at Harvard Law School, to becoming the Dean of the law school at NYU, to finally becoming the president of the university in 2001, it seemed like he has done the sort of crazy things that you imagine hearing from Huck Finn and not a university president (sorry about the run-on).

And yet, hearing all of his eclectic adventures only further convinced me of his ability to run the school and have the best interests of the university in his mind, which is interesting because it’s in despite of the fact that I disagreed with many of his actual ideas and decisions on how to run and organize NYU. I think that my affirmation really stemmed from two things: 1) the amount he seemed to care about the students, faculty, and constituents of the university and 2) his willingness and ability to try and execute new things. The fact that the first thing he did upon becoming president was look for an image and identity of the school, which ended up in the discovery of Albert Gallatin’s 1831 letter of intent on creating a university “in and of the city” really says something about his character. I feel like having the right values in your heart and possessing the confidence and conviction to abide by them is really the majority of the battle, and I’m glad that the president of my soon to be alma mater has both of those — not so much for me, but for the future generations to come.

The title of this post comes from one of the main lessons that he tried to convey to us during the dinner. Playing a different octave represents looking for and trying something new in life. While not really a novel idea and certainly one that you hear a lot of the time, I felt like it really summed up both the decisions that he made in his life and also his vision of NYU. Also, at least in my point of view, I feel like that mentality has really carried him well in his life and for the school. So kudos to him for the nice metaphor.

On a different note, I also had the unexpected pleasure of talking to a fellow student that I hadn’t really spoken to throughout college but definitely saw around from time to time. I think it’s one of those things where you are put into an new and uncomfortable situation and you immediately latch on the thing you are most familiar with. In any case, it was really nice talking to this person, finding out what she had been doing the past few years and also what her future plans are. It’s kind of wild how college is ending so soon and yet I’m still meeting people now that I wish knew better and had been in touch with before. I guess it’s just validation of the idea that you should really cast a wide net, reach out, and talk to as many people as you can.


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