I am writing you this note from the bowels of Newark Airport where I have taken refuge from the battle raging above me at the various gates and ticket counters. From my station at “Lost Baggage,” I can hear the six pounders being fired by British troops and the cries of American insurgents who have once again tried to fight with too old muskets, insufficient gunpowder and arrogant leadership. I am with them, but our leader, Benedict Arnold, quondam hero of Quebec, is in the nearest men’s room preening and muttering about his lack of appreciation by our good Congress in Philadelphia. I fear the man may be a Quisling although that term won’t exist until World War II which is scheduled to be fought on the playing fields of Eton in some future time. But since history no longer carries any meaning, I can only take comfort from the knowledge that you can’t win a land war in Asia. Or, as the British will learn from Mel Gibson in a movie coming out in 2000, in the United States.
So what has happened since our reunion at the end of May? Well, continuing one of the salient themes of that weekend, a remarkable group of American women has once again won the World Cup. I, for one, marveled at their skill, their unity and their well-earned confidence and bravado. But what I have really been thinking about over the last month, as they began their march to an end where failure was not an option, are the remarkable burdens and responsibilities that go with being the best (or really, really good) and knowing it. There are lessons to be learned. By me, and I believe, by all of us in the Yale Class of 1974. This isn’t about women, although I could see many of you going “there he goes again.” This is about the right to be excellent and to celebrate that. I hope it’s a theme we can consider as we look at our fiftieth in 2024. So here are some initial thoughts:
Like many of you, I grew up really good at some things and not very good at all at others. I got A’s and I got C’s and I was always encouraged never to celebrate my A’s but rather to focus on improving my C’s. I was only as good as the thing I was worst at. I took that as my lot in life, always trying to improve on my C’s and never celebrating my A’s. By way of example, during the eight years I spent practicing law, I was always told “You sure can bring in clients but you don’t know much law (read that as “you can sell but you’re kinda dumb”)”. But when I switched to the sell side of Wall Street, I was told, “You sure are smart but can you sell?” Well damn, that hit me like a broadside from a British frigate (I can hear one on the tarmac now). My seniors all concentrated on exploiting any perceived weakness they could find because that was how the world worked then. But events of the last few years, have made me question whether that’s the way the world remains. And what those events, coupled with the behavior of the USA Women’s Football Team, have confirmed to me in my 67th year is that the possibilities of life are not at all diminished, they continue to expand. It’s my job to grab on to them and go where I get A’s.
So, Alec, what’s your point? Well I have just come off organizing another reunion where I think we have finally established how we all got here. And, accordingly, I think the planning for the next reunion should focus on, “Having got here, what is our class’s special sauce? What can we impact as a class between now and our fiftieth so we aren’t just a bunch of old people limping in and out of Pierson but a vibrant purposeful class of 1974?” That’s my challenge to myself and to all of us. Let’s begin the conversation now.
The British frigate on the tarmac seems to have taken off for Antigua on a suntan run, and I am being summoned to my post. “Take me out to the Ballgame” is blaring throughout the airport as bombs are bursting in air at neighboring Fort McHenry. Gotta go! Roll a couple of bummers, Catherwood, and leave them on the side table. Yes, my friends, the flag is still there.