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MARA O'LAUGHLIN

OlaughlinA couple of weeks ago, someone I know said to me, "Hey, I see that Hobart and William Smith is naming a new building for Howard Stern."

"No, no, no" I said, "not Howard Stern, Herbert Stern. Herbert J. Stern.

"Oh," she said, "well what station is he on?"

"No, no, no," I said, "he's not on any station but he used to be on the bench."

"Oh, that Herb Stern," she said. "What team did he play for again?"

I suggested that we search the Web to learn more and so we went to Google, or maybe we asked Jeeves, and we learned that if you search for Herbert J. Stern you'll find more than 55,000 entries. Some of them are for Herbert, some are for J, some for Stern. We learned a lot about a lot of things. We learned, for example, about a shipwreck and the damage done to the stern of the good ship the Herbert J.

But we also found many entries for our Herb Stern. His biography appears on a number of sites-law schools, for example, where he's given his seminars on trial advocacy. At one of those sites, I noticed that only his law school was highlighted. His undergraduate degree wasn't mentioned. Now, I know that Herb is justifiably proud of his University of Chicago law degree. In his words, "My law school training provided me with the tools of my craft." But he has also written "…it was at Hobart and William Smith that I was first exposed to the richness of human life, history, and thought." And it's that part of his education-his liberal arts education-acquired here, in the buildings around the quad, that made him not the great trial lawyer and jurist we are proud to count among our alumni, but the educated man that he is proudest to be.

That didn't just happen. Herb was challenged, and prodded, and nurtured by the men and women who taught here in the 1950s. These Colleges were blessed with a generation of scholars who came here from Harvard and the University of Chicago, for example, and bequeathed to us a legacy that remains to this day. In one form or another, for more than half a century, we have had a curriculum that stresses interdisciplinary thinking. Today, in our First Year Seminars and graduation requirements, we insist that students look at things from more than one point of view. The curriculum that defined a Hobart and William Smith education in Herb's day did that, as well. And mine, too, I might add-a few years later! For Herb, it was in the then required history and literature courses. It was there that he, as he said, first learned of the "richness of human life, history, and thought."

But there's more. It wasn't just the formal structure or the requirements. It was the teaching-so many great teachers. And it was the connection, for Herb, with one faculty member-one-who opened the door, turned on the lights, and introduced him to the richness of human experience. As it happens, that faculty member was a fellow named Frank O'Laughlin. And that connection is also missing from the biography we found on the Web site. But it was powerfully a part of Herb's education here and part of why he has remained so loyal to us. I saw first hand the utter delight that Frank took as Herb built that impressive biography over the years. And I saw the utter delight that Herb took in sharing it with his mentor and dear friend.

This relationship of mutual respect and affection lasted for decades beyond Herb's graduation. For example, a couple of years ago, Herb helped me and others create what we've called "Frank's Books"-the invaluable scholarly collection he built over many decades which now resides on the second floor of the library. I know many of you will have a reason at some time to use those books-many of you already have. They're available to you because of Herb's generosity and because of his enduring connection to a faculty member.

Finally, I'd like to address the newest members of our community-the Classes of 2006. Hello again. Welcome-again. I said that a lot to you last year. But do you know what you said to us? Do you know what the most frequently asked question is in the admissions office? It had nothing to do with your SAT scores, you'll be glad to know. You asked us, over and over again, "Is the faculty accessible?" How do you think Herb and Frank would have answered that one? Do you see all of those people sitting in front of you-the ones in black gowns and colorful hoods, sitting under very funny hats? Someone there is waiting for you-waiting to unlock the door for you and to introduce you to the richness of human life, history, and thought. And that moment of connection may very well happen a year or so from now in one of the classrooms or offices in Stern Hall. How very lucky you are. Take advantage of it. Learn the answer to that most frequently asked question for yourselves. This faculty is here for you-as Herb Stern continued to find out more than forty years after his graduation.

I am honored to have been asked to speak today and Mark, I thank you for the opportunity. On behalf of my colleagues in the administration and on the staff I wish you all a most productive and successful year. Thank you.

 

INFORMATION

Staff Response, Mara O'Laughlin, Director of Admissions

Convocation, September 3, 2002