The Untold Story

Finding alumni with tales to tell is part of the fun.

September/October 2009

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The Untold Story

Jason Schneider

One of the enduring pleasures of editing this magazine is the occasional epiphany that occurs when we learn that an accomplished person has a Stanford connection we didn't know about.

The roster of people involved is as diverse as you might imagine. I remembered a special one recently after learning of the death of Robert Prince, '41. I had come to know Prince a few years ago when an account of his exploits appeared in a best-selling book, Ghost Soldiers, which depicted the audacious rescue of Allied soldiers from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in the Philippines during World War II. Prince, a 25-year-old captain, led the daring assault by a team of Army Rangers that liberated all 512 POWs, many of whom were survivors of the Bataan Death March. When we discovered that Prince was a Stanford graduate who began his military training as an ROTC cadet on the Farm, we published our own story about him, with many more details about his college years and life beyond the war. It remains one of my favorite examples of "finding" an alumnus with an enthralling tale to tell.

Though we do our best to keep track of alums as they progress through careers and life changes, we can't monitor them all. With an alumni population roughly equal to that of a mid-sized city—180,000, give or take—we don't always know that that guy who helped produce an Oscar-winning film used to live in Branner, or the woman who just rose to CEO at Extremely Successful Corporation cut her teeth at the GSB. But we seldom miss one thanks to a combination of helpful colleagues, former classmates, alert staff, and a little luck.

The most recent example is Valerie Jarrett. The subject of our cover story, Jarrett came to the nation's attention when Barack Obama began his ascent from U.S. senator to White House contender. Her name began appearing in news reports about the Obama team, and it was clear she was not only a longtime friend but also an influential adviser who might eventually find a seat in the West Wing. When we confirmed early on that she was the former Valerie Bowman, Stanford Class of 1978, the only question was when, not if, we would pursue a profile.

Jarrett, like so many others we have covered in our pages, has a fascinating personal history that predates her high-profile job. She is the great-granddaughter of the first African-American to graduate from MIT; she lived in Iran and London as a child; and she came to Stanford having never seen the place, inspired by a speech she had heard extolling its virtues. Working with mayors Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley, she became one of Chicago's leading political figures.

In a case like hers, our job is to excavate the underreported pieces of a life lived in the spotlight, to offer insights and anecdotes about her college years, and put into perspective Stanford's role in shaping her future.

Which leaves me wondering—in the big, wide world of Stanford alumni, who's out there waiting to be "discovered?" If you know of one, you know where to find us.

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