What You Don’t Expect

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The quotation on our cover is from Joseph Neary—a prediction and a wish for his son, Kevin Neary C’04.  In Novenber 2011 Kevin was shot in the neck in the course of an attempted robbery that happened while he was walking to his apartment in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. The bullet—fired by a 20-year-old high-school dropout named Christopher Easton, who was later sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for the crime—severed his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Since his injury, Kevin and his family have been striving, first, to keep him alive and get his condition stabilized, and now to come to terms with the reality of his new life. Somewhat miraculously, our story about that struggle, “Hope is Part of the Plan” by frequent contributor Dave Zeitlin C’03, does not make for depressing reading—a testament to his skill and sensitivity as a reporter, but even more to their extraordinary courage and resilience in the face of this tragedy.

Certainly, one comes away with a deep awareness of the heartbreak the Nearys have suffered, but also with a stronger sense of the bonds that sustain them, as well as the generosity of the many friends and total strangers who have donated time, skills, and resources on Kevin’s behalf. While Kevin naturally hopes for an advance that will someday let him walk again, his determination to live as rich a life as he can, whatever the future holds, is clear, as is the steadfast support of his father and brothers Joe and Chris in helping make sure that “Kevin will do all right.”

In a strange way I was reminded of Joseph Neary while reading “Good Returns,” our excerpt from Wharton professor Adam Grant’s new book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, and associate editor Trey Popp’s accompanying interview with Grant. It was not his self-sacrifice on his son’s behalf—which we can understand, even while doubting we could match such devotion—that did it, but rather a smaller moment in the story, in which he goes out of his way to comfort a friend of Kevin’s whom he’d barely met before he visited the hospital. “He made me feel like I was linked with him in love for Kevin,” the friend says. Even in the greatest extremity, Joseph noticed another’s need and his instinct was to share his strength and help.

How does this relate to “success”? According to Grant, it is those individuals who are “other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them”—that is, givers, as opposed to matchers, who keep a running tally of favors offered and received, and takers who, well, take what they can get—who achieve the greatest success, even in fields perceived as hotbeds of cutthroat competition.

Grant’s counterintuitive insights have sparked plenty of interest among the media, including talk-radio host Michael Smerconish L’87, who had Grant on his show in the spring, and whose own professional path—traced by senior editor Samuel Hughes in “The Purple Passion of Michael Smerconish”—has taken some unconventional twists. While he never would have been mistaken for Rush Limbaugh, he was once a more or less by-the-book conservative on the air. But in his current show, broadcast on SiriusXM satellite radio, Smerconish steers a course that avoids the talking points and reflexive attitudes of both the Right and Left, attempting to prove, as the on-air promo for his show declares, that “there is passion in the middle.”

For playwright Glen Berger C’89 perhaps the most unexpected part of his experience as co-writer of the script for the musical Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark was getting the job in the first place. Berger has had plays produced in New York and around the world, but had spent his career far from the Broadway stage—or at least that part of it where comic-book-based blockbusters are born. But what happened after that, detailed in “Glen Berger’s Amazing Spider-man Experience” by Alyson Krueger C’07, turned out to be a bit of a shock as well.

—John Prendergast C’80

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