Alumni Relations was nervous. It was 8:05, and no more than thirty people were scattered about Evans Hall, the second largest auditorium on campus, to see Jonathan McBride ’92 speak as part of the Great Beginnings series of alumni talks. They postponed the start until 8:10. Then 8:15. Two hours later, I left Cummings after one of the best talks I have ever heard at Connecticut College.
It is always inspiring to see a Conn graduate talk about how they have dealt with life after college, something that we all are anxious about. He started his lecture by talking about his experimental life as a student. “I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he told us (another thing we all love hearing from a succesful alum). As a student, McBride was a Senior Admissions Fellow, and referred to the position as his favorite involvement at Conn. He was also the Vice President of SGA, a member of the soccer team, founder of a number of clubs on campus and a student worker in the President’s Office. In fact, when a student asked him about Thursday and Saturday nights twenty years ago, we also learned that he was a DJ for campus parties.
After college, McBride’s plan was to go to Spain for a year, learn Spanish and play soccer. His plans changed when he was offered a job in a Senator’s office in Washington D.C. A few years later he enrolled in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania for his MBA. He spent a couple months in South America to fulfill his dream of traveling and learning the Spanish language. Upon his return he started working for financial banking firms, one of them being Goldman Sachs. The nineties were a great time to start a new business and invest in new ideas, something McBride took part in. With a friend he started his own magazine for MBAs called Jungle Interactive Media Inc., which offered MBA graduates and students a forum for networking in the MBA world—which, as the name suggests, is like a jungle.
Every word that McBride uttered felt like he was revealing the truth about the world. When current SGA Chair of Academia Affaire Alexandra Shapiro ’11, who was on stage with McBride, asked questions about his career in the White House and his personal interaction with President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, every one in the audience froze with curiosity.
“Barack is the smartest person I know,” said McBride. “He and Bill Clinton have a lot in common but they are brilliant in different ways.” According to McBride, Clinton and Obama can both listen to a room full of different ideas and decide upon the best one after considering all viewpoints. “Barack is a genius at making great decisions and not wasting time by dwelling on their accuracy.”
McBride satisfied everyone’s curiosity about Obama’s personality behind the media coverage by telling a few fascinating stories about him. In the first, Obama had went on a trip for some sort of presidential duty, and he was travelling with two of his White House staffers. He seemed stuck in his head throughout the trip, and the two staffers were scared to ask him what was going on, since he had constant presidential thoughts on his mind and they did not want to distract his thinking process. After a solemn couple of hours on the plane, he turned to his staffers and told them that that morning, he asked Sasha to write an essay about the White House instead of letting her enjoy the snow day she was so thrilled to have. He asked them if he was a bad dad.
“Being the President of United States is not one man’s job,” said McBride. “It is impossible for one person to deal with everything that happens in the White House and the responsibilities of being the President. Barack is able to have the ideal balance between family, personal life and presidency, and does a great job in doing the best that any president can do by himself.”
In another, Michelle Obama, upon entering the White House, made sure that everyone in the White House knew the names of every permanent staff member—the cooks, janitors, everyone. Michelle’s father was a janitor. She found that these people were the backbone in making the White House a home more than just a political entity. She wanted to highlight their value.
What is the lesson we should learn from McBride’s talk? We are lucky to be students at a liberal arts college like Conn. Everything we decide to do in college will help us in every aspect of life, and if we want to, even in the White House. We should remember that all stages in life provide us with opportunities, and we need to act what those opportunities bring out in us rather than merely dwell on them. McBride is an amazing ambassador of Conn and the various ways our college prepares us for recognizing possibilities the future offers. •