October’s reunion festivities drew a record-breaking 10,074 alumni and guests back to the Farm, where 29 different tours, 47 Classes Without Quizzes and 301 official minireunions helped keep things lively.
After 10 Years, What Next?
Former Cardinal and NFL linebacker Jon Alston was telling the Class of 2005 reunion audience about the day he came out to his parents—as a “transprofessional,” that is. “I was an artist trapped in an athlete’s body,” he explained. Having faced up to them, he left football to pursue his “real gift and passion”: storytelling.
The Class Panel’s organizers had asked Alston and his fellow speakers to “connect the dots backward”—a reference to Steve Jobs’s 2005 Commencement speech urging graduates to trust that job choices or pursuits that seem random at the time “will somehow connect in your future.” Certainly, Alston’s plunge into filmmaking seemed unrelated to his past experience. But in retrospect, he realized that the characteristics that fueled his football career—his “hyperdrive to succeed” and “need to feel perceived as successful”—also got him through his neophyte days in film, “battling people who say you don’t know what you’re doing.” Alston wrote his first feature-length script in nine days and made the romantic drama Red Butterfly in three months—“leading 300 people who are smarter than me.”
Andrew Nielsen, better known as MC Lars, was a rap artist in 2004 and still is. He counts a Carnegie Hall performance and recording with “Weird Al” Yankovic among his achievements. But a friend’s suicide led him to seek a “greater cause,” including public service work to increase understanding of depression and “teaching kids to play with ideas.” His English major has sparked rap that echoes Shakespeare, Poe and Melville.
Victor Marsh said he had come to think of himself as “a lifer” in the U.S. Foreign Service, having worked for eight stimulating years on crisis management in Haiti, Cyprus and Washington, D.C. But the birth of his child changed everything. He’s moved west and seeks a job that will accommodate more family time.
Jess Goldman Foung described her early post-Stanford years as a time of jumping from one thing to another with “no sense of purpose” other than trying to conform to a conventional career track. Foung had been diagnosed with severe lupus at Stanford; she eventually found she could apply her personal health management to a career as an expert on low-sodium nutrition and patient education. As Sodium Girl, she’s written two cookbooks and works with national nonprofits.
Engineer Debbie Sterling said she spent years “searching for my passion” through work in rural India, and in branding and marketing for a small jewelry business. Then, at an “idea brunch” with friends in San Francisco, she and her future business partner struck upon the idea for GoldieBlox—a widely acclaimed venture making interactive construction toys and stories designed for girls. Finally, her dots—engineering, women’s issues, small business experience—connected.
Suraj Patel went to law school and worked as a White House advance man; currently he’s president of a real estate firm, teaches business ethics at NYU, is a sometime actor and is “always looking for something else.” Lately, that includes mango farming in Florida. Patel’s pursuits may seem scattered, but his philosophy drew applause: “We are uniquely lucky to have the insurance policy of this [Stanford] degree,” he said. “We owe it to the world to make it interesting. If there’s something worth doing, you’ve got to do it.”