Alumnae and Alumni
Meeting Somervillians of every generation is always challenging and energising. I don’t remember when I last met anyone from this College who did not have something interesting to say for themselves; though quite a few are unduly modest. Not long after returning from a busy trip to India, I was off again to attend the Oxford North America alumni reunion in New York. There I met, one-to-one and in groups, business leaders, a leading research scientist, a university leader, younger alumni who are forging new careers in business, the law and academic life, doctors, artists and more. Some of us gathered for the Oxford dinner at Cipriani’s opposite Grand Central station, together with some old friends from my Yale days. The stygian blue lighting in this grandiose former bank made it difficult to see just who was there, but my table was full of life. We had a birthday to celebrate and connections to discover between Somervillians and non-Somervillians, and then there was the pleasure of hearing a chamber trio from New College, and the stimulus of a presentation about the new Blavatnik School of Government. This is one of the most exciting developments to appear on the Oxford scene in recent years, and the fact that it will be adjacent to Somerville, on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, promises well for future collaborations with the College. Highlight of the New York reunion from Somerville’s point of view was a repeat visit to Cindy Gallop’s glamorous apartment for a buffet dinner on the Saturday evening.
Back home there has been a more than usually busy round of Somervillian gatherings. I enjoy most of all the times when alumni of different generations come together with current students, and those when students squeeze into my house for a talk of special interest. We recently had the privilege of a visit from the immensely distinguished Indian philanthropist, government adviser and business leader Anu Aga, most graceful and modest of speakers, for a small gathering of students in Radcliffe House. Her analysis of Indian civil and political life today, the problems and the possibilities, was spell-binding, especially to those who hope to go out to India and work in NGOs there. Her own work with schools for poor children in Pune is inspiring.
Not long afterwards, a Somerville alumna of Indian origin, Baroness Shriti Vadera, gave a mesmerizing talk to alumni members of the Somervillian City Group at Goldman Sachs headquarters in Fleet Street. Lady Vadera’s analysis of the Euro crisis and its background, bleak but witty, dynamic and forward-looking but also realistic, left me wondering how her PPE tutors had dealt with this intellectual whirlwind when she was a student. Oh no, said Shriti, she was relaxing during her undergraduate years. If true (and I am sceptical) I can only speculate whether a similar phenomenon will appear from among some of our more laid-back current students of politics in the next twenty years.
The tapestry of Somerville’s alumni and their lives unfolds in so many ways. Clara Freeman and Hilary Newiss, the chair and deputy chair of our Development Board, gave a party for more than sixty Somervillians at Clara’s London house, and several of us there laid plans to bring alumni to the College to help our students discover possible careers, and to offer mentoring and networking. The recent Student Barometer in which Somerville scored so well overall, nevertheless indicated that more careers advice would be welcomed. With such enthusiastic alumni at hand there is no reason why we should not do better.