It’s become second nature in this country to blame society and the circumstances of one’s childhood for one’s problems. Courage, genius and creativity-all of these don’t stand a chance against a personal history plagued by misfortune and bad luck. Only by fixing society, the thinking goes, can we make sure that our youngsters achieve their potential.
But try telling that to Chesa Boudin. When he was 14 months old, his mother and father were sent to a maximum-security prison in New York State and, 21 years later, they remain there. He was born with epilepsy and dyslexia. He was unable to read until the third grade, and was marked as a “problem child” from an early age because of frequent temper tantrums. He has the sort of unenviable personal history out of which bad guys and life’s losers are made.
So where is Mr. Boudin today? Last month, he joined 31 other Americans to accept a Rhodes Scholarship, the country’s most prestigious academic honor, and will be heading to Oxford University to deepen his study of international development-an interest he developed as a Phi Beta Kappa at Yale. As The New York Times reported, his parents are barred from receiving phone calls or e-mail in prison, and so would only learn of their son’s accomplishment in the newspapers.
Mr. Boudin’s parents are Katherine Boudin and David Gilbert, who became infamous in the 1970’s as members of the radical group the Weathermen. In 1981, they were convicted for taking part in the Brink’s robbery, during which two police officers and a guard were killed. Chesa was raised by Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, Weathermen colleagues of his parents, in Chicago. But his family connection remains strong: Mr. Boudin’s parents write to him almost every day and, since they’re permitted to make collect calls from prison, Mr. Boudin reprogrammed his Yale dormitory phone to override a campus-wide block on receiving collect calls, according to The Times.
Close to 1,000 students are nominated for the Rhodes each year. In his application, Mr. Boudin wrote of his parents’ situation and what he’s taken from it: “As a child, I relished my personal freedom and tried to compensate for my parents’ imprisonment. Now, I see prisons around the world: urban misery in Bolivia, homelessness in Santiago and illiteracy in Guatemala.”
Shortly before winning the Rhodes, Mr. Boudin was informed that he’d also won a Marshall scholarship, which also sends students to England. Since he can’t accept both, he’s decided to take the Rhodes.
So the next time someone starts to whine about their troubles, you might want to mention Chesa Boudin, a young man who didn’t let the cards he was dealt ruin a perfectly played hand.
Time Magazine’s Hoax of the Year
In an effort to prop up their flagging and irrelevant selection of the year’s top newsmakers, Time magazine’s editors spurned the usual stable of world leaders, famous scientists and international do-gooders. Instead, they designated three fairly obscure American women as their Persons of the Year. The honorees won Time’s plaudits because of their determination to buck the system and tell the truth about incompetence and fraud at the highest levels of the public and private sectors.
The magazine’s editors no doubt considered this unusual selection to be ever so politically correct-after all, the three whistle-blowers could be portrayed as righteous women willing to defy the oppressive rules and customs of the discredited old boys’ club. Sort of better-dressed versions of Erin Brockovich.
If that’s how Time’s editors wish to waste their once eagerly anticipated franchise, well, that’s their business. But in their eagerness to celebrate those willing to call a fraud a fraud, they have committed a fraud.
One of Time’s sainted whistle-blowers, it turns out, is nothing of the kind. Quite the opposite, in fact: Sherron Watkins was a vice president at Enron who was chosen to share Person of the Year honors with Coleen Rowley, the F.B.I. attorney who spoke out about the agency’s bungling before Sept. 11, and Cynthia Cooper, an accountant at WorldCom.
Unlike the other two, Ms. Watkins did nothing to justify the label of brave truth-teller. As The Wall Street Journal noted, when Ms. Watkins became dubious about the goings-on at Enron, she didn’t go public or notify law enforcement. She wrote a memo to Kenneth Lay, the disgraced head of Enron, warning him that he might get caught with his hand in the till-in other words, she was tipping him off. When Enron exploded, she blamed it all on the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen. She was never fired for speaking out, with good reason: She towed the company line and, as such, was part of the scam that violated the trust of Enron shareholders.
And for this, she’s rewarded as one of Time’s Persons of the Year. How absurd. Perhaps one of the magazine’s disgruntled editors-surely there must be at least one-will go public with the truth behind the deliberations over this year’s Persons of the Year. If such a brave soul exists, we’ll be happy to nominate him or her as next year’s Person of the Year.
Brearley Makes A Great Choice
It’s well-known that the character and qualities of the leader of a small school have a profound impact on the academic experience of the students at that school. The headmaster sets the tone, recruits the staff and creates the culture within the school walls. With its recent hiring of Stephanie J. Hull as headmistress, the Brearley School on East 83rd Street has made an extraordinary decision that will benefit the girls of Brearley for many years to come. Ms. Hull’s impeccable résumé and refreshing combination of academic and managerial skills may very well set a new standard for leadership in the city’s tightly bound community of private schools.
Ms. Hull’s credentials range far beyond the insular private-school world; her training has been at the college level, where the real-world challenges of fund-raising and meeting budgets are daily preoccupations. A graduate of Wellesley College, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. at Harvard University. She became a professor of French at Dartmouth College in 1992 and quickly worked her way into a position as assistant dean of the college. She was hired by Mount Holyoke college in 1998 as assistant to the college president-the job she’ll be leaving when she comes to Brearley in July.
It is incidental, but also encouraging, that Ms. Hull is Brearley’s first African-American headmistress in the school’s 118-year history. As she sharpens students’ minds, she will likely help broaden them as well. It’s not surprising that Brearley may be the finest school in the country.