Sometimes, you just have to be there. For the rest of my life one such moment will be June 11, 2016, at 11 a.m. in Eaton Chapel—the Alumni Assembly at Beloit College’s Reunion. More specifically, the greatest distinguished service alumni ceremony in the history of higher education. Yep, this is my point of view. I think one shared by just about everyone in the room.
Collectively, we witnessed Bob Norris’66, Alisan Goldfarb’71, Matt Tolmach’86, Daniel Ames’91, and Larissa Thomas’06 not only receive citations, but also tell a collection of stories that were individually compelling and communally spectacular. The power of a Beloit education across the decades permeated Eaton. If you ever wondered about the potential of Beloit exceptionalism, it was on display. Boy, was it on display.
Bob is one of the founders of the field of environmental remediation—productively solving disputes with high environmental, economic, and emotional stakes. Alisan pioneered new approaches for the care and treatment of women with breast cancer—healthier and more humane approaches that may never have been recognized without more women like her in the field. Matt, one of the great movie producers in America, has earned a spectacular place in the spectacular world of Hollywood. His skills at connecting the greatest acting talent to the most interesting stories is unmatched. Daniel is a ridiculously young star at Columbia University’s business school. Already a chaired professor, he has produced path-breaking research on how judgments are formed in social interactions, including business negotiations. Larissa, barely 10 years beyond Beloit, has already carved out an amazing career path in creatively connecting her work as a physician to the needs of the communities in which she works.
So, what did they have to say about the breadcrumbs connecting their Beloit College experiences with key aspects of their careers?
At the core of Bob’s remarks was the importance of having found a lifetime friend-mentor-confidant in his first-year roommate, international student Takashi Nagata’66. Bob also talked about the ways he has been given opportunities over the years to connect meaningful aspects of his work and his passion to current students and faculty of the college.
Alisan made a case that, at a time when very few women could aspire to leadership positions in the medical profession, her Beloit advisors were eager to provide her with skills, believe in her talents, and ask about her aspirations. (“I did dream of going to medical school—so that is what I told the person asking the question. And she BELIEVED me.”)
Daniel called Beloit College a “quirky matchmaker,” connecting the qualities of Beloit College students (“… hungry minds, ready for mischief”) with the insight and wisdom of faculty, such as Professor Jeff Adams, to produce its magic.
Larissa talked about being inspired by Professor Chris Johnson and a dance program focused on the intersection of the movement of the human body and social justice. But, also, how insights learned there connect to new ways of thinking about delivering medical care with more humanity.
And, then there was Matt. Matt provided remarks that demonstrated a gloriously clear point of view. His was a story of chalk dust, Clockwork Orange, authenticity, and “that little red-headed beserker” otherwise known as Professor Tom McBride. Matt took a position located firmly in Tom’s mentorship and what he learned: “Have a point of view. Have an idea. Like something or dislike it, but choose one. That’s what levels the playing field. You have to be willing to stand in the face of a mad, chalk-covered English professor who’s calling you out in front of 30 other people, forcing you to do one thing—think and express yourself.”
It is not often that I offer advice in my little space here in the magazine. But, here goes: Read Matt’s remarks. I mean it. You can read them at https://www.beloit.edu/alumni/awards where you can also read Alisan’s, Bob’s, Dan’s, and Larissa’s. You want to do this, I promise.
It was even better in person though.
From here at Chapin’s desk. Wow, what a day to be a Beloiter.
-President Scott Bierman