Rising To Challenges

 

President Amy Gutmann, who took office on July 1, calls her new job “the culmination for me of a lifelong devotion to teaching and research.” This issue’s cover story retraces the path that brought her to West Philadelphia, and also describes the ideas that some University faculty, staff, and alumni have about how she will lead during “this next cycle in Penn’s evolution,” as trustee chairman James S. Riepe W’65 WG’67 puts it.

Even allowing for a certain amount of enlightened self-interest—she is the boss, after all; a fact of which not even deans are wholly unaware —there seems to be a sincere welcome for Dr. Gutmann and a sense that good things will come from her administration. The advances seen in the past decade under Dr. Rodin’s leadership have created a hard act to follow, but also a solid base on which to build. And Gutmann seems ready—eager, even—to rise to the challenge.

In that, she has a lot in common with three alumni profiled in this issue’s other feature articles.

Paul Steven Miller C’83, who was born with achondroplasia, a condition that causes dwarfism, has taken that physical difference and turned it to making a difference in the lives of people with all kinds of disabilities. Miller acknowledges that he has not always “embraced who I am,” but adds, “just because it is harder to be different doesn’t mean that you want to erase that difference or that identity.”

This summer Miller finished a decade of service as a commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, during which he emerged as a leading advocate in the battle against discrimination—while also earning a reputation as a pragmatist able to work with Republican as well as Democratic colleagues. This fall he begins a new career teaching at the University of Washington School of Law, where the dean says that, besides bringing the benefit of his legal experience, he will also serve as an example for students not to let physical or mental limitations disable them.

For Aimee Kocis C’99, who says she “wants to live like a farmer always,” the challenge was to earn a living doing that, and also to do her part in preserving the tradition of small farms serving local communities in an age of agri-business. As “Growing Movement,” by former Wharton Alumni Magazine editor Nancy Moffitt demonstrates, as of this summer, she seems to be accomplishing her goal.

Kocis and her fiancé John Good operate the Charlestown Cooperative Farm in suburban Philadelphia, now in its third year. Though farming can be hard at times, “because everything rests upon you,” she says, “at the same time it inspires you to be thinking all the time and creating new ways to do things.”

Stephanie Williams C’92 was faced with the ultimate challenge—diagnosed three years ago with an aggressive form of breast cancer, she knew she was dying. Though she had already established herself as a magazine journalist, she had always wanted to write a novel.

That ambition was the subject of an “Alumni Voices” essay in the September/ October 1999 issue, which I immediately recalled when Caroline Hwang C’91 e-mailed me this spring about Stephanie’s diagnosis and the novel, Enter Sandman, that she had indeed managed to finish despite her disease—how it had been drafted in a pact with a fellow aspiring novelist (and Penn alumnus) and how friends and colleagues had come together to speed the book to print, since there clearly wasn’t time to go through publishing’s normal channels.

While the book is fiction and not autobiography (and is a first novel to be proud of), the qualities displayed by the main character in our excerpt—a sense of humor and the absurd, vulnerability combined with toughness in the face of tragedy—were clearly shared by the author.

—John Prendergast C’80


2004 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/27/04

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