My favorite question: "During the past 25 years, whom do you wish you had not met?"
Answers ranged from bad bosses and ex-spouses to destructive politicians and evil stepmothers. Surely, you can think someone who has done you wrong — the "Back Stabbers," immortalized in song by the O’Jays.
One of our classmates answered graciously and simply: "Everyone has been a teacher." I read her answers with great interest because I remembered her well from our bright college days, even though we had barely been introduced way back when. This was a rare and unusual classmate. She would surely have won — and would win today — a class vote for "Rarest Bird."
Her name is Bird of the Phoenix Movement. Legend says that she arrived at Yale without applying, that she simply showed up on the first day of classes, that she just asked Admissions for a space in the class, that Admissions assessed her on the spot and admitted her. (The opposite of Early Decision, eh? Let’s call this "Late Decision" admissions?)
I’ve never known if this story is true. But I do know that, in a world of extraordinary graduates, Bird is the rarest of Yalies. One of the best parts of my recent 25th Reunion was getting to know her a little.
During the reunion, at a panel discussion on living abroad — Bird lives in Australia — she offered a parting comment. After so many reports from other far-flung alumni with relatively traditional alumni career stories, Bird said: "We’ve heard such great stories of adventure today. Let me invite you to another adventure. Maybe you will someday decide that you would like to drop out: out of the career rut, out of the economy, out of the rat race. If you ever want to drop out, contact me. I know places all over Australia where you can grow crops, go to the farmer’s market to sell your goods one day each week, and you will have enough to live on all week. I can set you up. Just contact me."
Someone mentioned to me, "We always thought Bird was way out there. Now, it seems like she might be the most psychologically healthy person in our entire class."
But, after the reunion ended, I was left with more questions for Bird. One of many, many questions is, "Hey, Bird, what really happened with admissions?"
So I’m asking her questions. And she is sharing her answers at a website we’ve created called Bird and Dog at Yale. Feel free to check it out.
Back to her gracious response: "Everyone has been a teacher." I wholeheartedly agree. Middle age has allowed me to look back on all my relationships and see that, even when others engaged in dirty dealing, they were teachers to me. We have a post-it note on our refrigerator that reminds us: "Teachers Are Where You Seek Them."
Everyone is a teacher.