Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7 left 1400 murdered and 240 taken hostage in the deadliest single day for Jews worldwide since the Holocaust; it also spawned an avalanche of emotions in college campuses in the US. A section of the student body appears to not grasp the extent of the calamity, especially fear and revulsion felt by Jews. Protests routinely cross the boundary between legitimate concerns about collateral damage and questioning of Israel’s right to exist. Rallies spill into the streets every day, ugly skirmishes beak out, and death threats are posted on the Internet.
In a well-publicized event, a Cornell University student allegedly posted death threats against Jewish students and a Jewish living center on campus. That hit close to home for me, a proud Cornellian. Similar sentiments were echoed across the land as emotions ran high, rhetoric ran divisive, and regret came later.
Almost two decades and a half after I walked the campus as a student, roads taken find me in Los Angeles today. As an investment professional, and now as an entrepreneur, every single week I found myself in some room with diverse groups like what I interacted with high above Cayuga Lake. In these rooms, we had Christians, Jews, Catholics, Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims; male and female; Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians, Middle Easterners, and Africans. We had people born in every single continent and in too many countries to count. We debated past, present and future – for opportunities as well as for risk assessments. Discussions got animated most days, voices were raised often, and egos got hurt sometimes. In the end, we would break for a meal or a beverage; satiated, each would go a different way with a nod and a handshake, only to return for a repeat.
We would frequently comment that these weekly gatherings reminded us of college. For me it harkened back to the days spent in Willard Straight Hall, the Student Commons, or the Ho Plaza, the place to be in front of the iconic Clock Tower. No matter which places one called home in those precious years of their life, they grew within a sanctuary where one could be a fool, within limit, and still count on having the opportunity to learn from mistakes. Quite often the outside world spilled into our dorms, quads and squares, angry frustrations rung out in the corridors just like today. It happened too, not often, that divisions seemed to be so stark that each side seemed to forget the humanity in the others across the picket line.
My wife and I have a teenager who just started college. The love of our lives is in the thick of everything happening on campuses and on city streets in Massachusetts. We worry about his safety and sanity. We question if sending the best part of our existence across the continent is the right decision. Each of us has answered the question independently – and the answer is an overwhelming yes.
It is not the curriculum that necessarily drives our answer, it is about experiences. As for me, my education did not necessarily happen at Uris Library, Sage Hall, or Uris Hall – three places where I spent most of my academic engagements. It happened inside Big Red Barn, a hangout for international students, the inside of which dazzled with lived experiences, faces and dresses, accents, and colors from every part of the globe. It happened while walking the Arts Quad or the Libe Slope, it happened while trekking to the Arboretum or the Beebe Lake, it happened on excursions to Cayuga Lake or Taughannock Falls.
It happened because of the people, with the people, and, by the people.
People are what make US colleges a beacon of hope for the next generations. Colleges do give you the tools, the theories, the languages, and the practicum, as importantly they give you access to others who are looking to belong to a community of seekers of truth. It gave me valuable lessons in being able to sit across from the table and have animated exchanges, even when tempers ran high camaraderie never runs cold. I used these lessons in my professional and personal existence, every single time. It gave me lessons in trying to find the biggest issue that is the roadblock and try to break it down into manageable small chunks.
Years spent at a US university gave me lessons to be confident and comfortable on my own even when it seems like I am drowning, partly because there were lifelines but mostly because being challenged intellectually birthed a bespoke survival instinct. Years spent in Big Red taught me that I was, and am, perfect in my individual imperfections. Yet, those halls of higher learning spawned a lifelong student so I can be better tomorrow. I am sure the story repeats in every soul that passes through.
My college years taught me the most productive minutes on a project might be the ones when you do absolutely nothing. If a paper is due in two hours and you still have not finalized your argument, maybe the best five minutes will be spent splashing water in your face, hunting down some late-night snack, and reheating ad-infinitum what is left in the mug. Taking a break when it seems you least afford it is another survival mechanism I learned as a student at Cornell.
That led to the advice my wife and I gave our son last few weeks – walk up to the rooftop and scream to the night sky if you need to. When you are done, walk back down and hug your roommate with whom you have been splitting hairs, look them in the eye and acknowledge that each of you is a most magnificent creation, and each of you is a living hope for tomorrow.
Finance professionals “go long” in anything they invest money in and “go short” in anything they bet against. I long for a US college education, for myself, and for the best thing I ever created. That bet paid off well for me, we expect similar returns through our offspring.
We can never think otherwise – “going short” will mean betting against what is best in America. We will never do that because the best of America, truly, is yet to come.