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Extraordinary People

READING THIS MONTH'S lineup of feature articles has left me feeling a little dull. Not because they're boring (I hope not), but dull in the sense that they've made me conscious of the rather narrow, predictable path I've followed in life so far -- my relative lack of imagination and sense of adventure, in other words.
   A recent profile in Fortune magazine described Richard Saul Wurman, Ar'49, GAr'59, the subject of our cover story, as a "shrewd, self-indulgent, childlike genius," and noted that his favored self-description is "intellectual hedonist." After mixed experiences as a traditional architect and academic, he carved out a unique niche for himself as an "information architect" -- reinventing the tourist guide through his series of geography-based Access guides, for example -- and as the organizer/ringleader of the annual TED conferences, which bring together movers and shakers in the swiftly converging fields of technology, entertainment, and design. Guests at TED have ranged from Bill Gates to Timothy Leary. So one-of-a-kind is Wurman that he earned his own category in Upside magazine's latest list of the "100 most influential people in the digital age": Host With the Most.
Felicity Wood, C'92, first visited Vietnam as a backpacking student in 1989, the summer before her freshman year at Penn. After graduation, she became the first executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam and now works for a Vietnamese advertising company. She contributes an essay describing her firsthand observations of the country's rapid economic and social transformation, from a place where eating an egg with your soup was considered an unbecoming -- and perhaps dangerous -- show of wealth to a boomtown of mobile phones, motorcycles, and high-rise offices and hotels. "I seem to enjoy the kind of situation where I can test my own resourcefulness and self-reliance," she writes, in a piece that didn't find its way into the published essay.
   One event that did set my life off in a direction different than it would otherwise have taken was being accepted at Penn -- and being given enough financial aid that I could afford to accept the acceptance. I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, but the obstacles I faced were nothing compared to those confronting the students whose stories are told in Assistant Editor Susan Lonkevich's articles, "Danien's Daughters" and "The Gift."
   "Danien" is Elin Danien, CGS'82, G'89, who went back to school at age 46 and who founded the Bread Upon the Waters scholarship program aimed at women over 30 studying part-time in the College of General Studies. Currently, there are 25 participants in the program, all juggling some combination of children, spouses, and jobs with their studies.
   A perhaps even more telling example of the transformative power of higher education is the Say Yes to Education program. Established 10 years ago by University trustee George Weiss, W'65, and his then-wife Diane Weiss, the program has provided a range of tutoring, counseling, and financial aid to help 112 students in the 1987 sixth-grade class in West Philadelphia's Belmont Elementary School graduate from high school and go on to college or trade school.
   This issue also includes a photo essay commemorating Homecoming Weekend 1997, which was highlighted by a football win over Princeton in wet weather (since overshadowed by the team's 33-0 shutout at the hands of Harvard the following weekend). As a sort of companion piece, we offer the tale of another Penn-Princeton contest that took place more than a century ago -- this one in the somewhat dryer, though more confined, quarters of Philadelphia's Academy of Music.
    -- John Prendergast, C'80

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Copyright 1997 The Pennsylvania Gazette | Last modified 12/9/97