We don’t generally travel for stories at the Gazette. A lot of what we write about happens right here on campus, of course, and when staff members talk to alumni it’s often by phone. That’s how senior editor Samuel Hughes first came in contact with Julia Keleher C’96 GEd’98 for what we thought would be an “Alumni Profile.” Keleher was appointed secretary of education in Puerto Rico in January 2017, and when hurricanes Irma and Maria struck less than a year into her tenure, it made an already challenging and controversial mandate to reform the island’s struggling school system that much more challenging.
When Sam said he thought this story would require reporting on the ground, I was a little hesitant (I’m cheap), but he was right. The proof is in our cover story, “Storms and Reforms,” a far more nuanced take on a seriously complicated political and social issue—and a far richer portrait of Keleher—than would have been possible from a distance.
Sam spent five days on the island, making the rounds with Keleher and also interviewing Puerto Rico’s governor and a number of others involved in the schools. (As an added bonus, he was also able to venture to Humacao province to spend time with Christine Nieves C’10, whose harrowing tale of surviving Maria in the small, mountainous town of Mariana and ongoing work to forge a new path forward for it and other rural areas, makes for a powerful and inspiring companion piece, “Healing the Island.”)
Partly because of the massive reform legislation (whose passage she helped ensure), partly by being a non-native, and partly from her own charge-ahead personality, Keleher is a bit of a lightning rod on the island. At one point, teachers went on strike for a day to protest the legislation; some called for her resignation. Despite such conflicts, the legislation passed and the end of the story portrays her as hopeful she’ll find acceptance in her adopted homeland.
I want to say that Keleher would benefit from a session with University Chaplain Charles Howard C’00—but I think that’s true for most of us. In “The Idea of Love,” Dave Zeitlin C’03 profiles the individual universally known as “Chaz,” who has served as Penn’s religious and spiritual leader for the past decade.
My first memory of Chaz—which I don’t think I’ve ever shared with him—concerns an alumni relations dinnertime event that featured a handful of student speakers. I was new enough at the Gazette that it was still a novelty how much more mature and accomplished Penn students seemed than I had been. (The feeling has never gone away, but I’ve long gotten used to it.)
I’m sure the others were more than impressive enough to awaken my inferiority complex, but Chaz is the one who stuck in my head. He was just extraordinarily poised, and present, and impressive in every way without being in the least showoffy or obviously pleased with himself—and then there was that voice, which he had even in his early 20s.
It was a bit of a shock for me to read that Chaz may have been in serious emotional trouble then, having turned to alcohol to avoid dealing with the death of his parents and the stress of his academic and extracurricular life. He came close to failing out of the University—an experience that shaped him and informs his counseling of students today.
There’s much more in Dave’s story, about how Chaz’s family life is intertwined with the University, the challenges of public speaking and one-on-one sessions with students facing personal trauma or dealing with immigration or other polarizing issues, not to mention his love for Quaker basketball and the fact that he does not have Penn tattooed on his rear (but why deny it then?).
We’ve written with some frequency over the years about pioneering psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman Gr’67, but this issue’s excerpt from his new autobiography, The Hope Circuit, offers a fresh angle. “When William James Got Hungry” begins with a tale about the fickleness of academic fame—how Penn’s own Edwin Twitmyer Gr1902 could have rivaled Pavlov, but didn’t—and opens up into a witty and insightful meditation on changing fashions as to what counts as important in illuminating human thought and behavior, while also offering a glimpse of the future giant of positive psychology as a young man.
Finally, in April the University launched The Power of Penn: Advancing Knowledge for Good, which aims to raise $4.1 billion (or more). We have a report in “Gazetteer,” and President Gutmann addresses the campaign rationale in “From College Hall.”
—John Prendergast C’80