The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Presenting Step Forward in NYC, a personal reflection

By Eleni Zimiles

On Tuesday night, I was at home in Brooklyn, and I was running late. I had tried for a good hour to put together a business casual outfit that I could move in and heels that would make me look less like a stump but also not be my death sentence. My parent’s printer wasn’t working, and my sister’s wasn’t working either. I made a call to Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre and said, “Slight disaster, I don’t have my speech.” Laurie, always calm, always keep-it-together, responded, “Eleni, just get on the train, we’ll figure it out.” I hopped on the B train at Newkirk Plaza headed to midtown for Macalester’s Step Forward campaign. Macalester flew me out as the student speaker for the campaign’s regional dinner, along with two other Macalester students, Owen Trusdell ’11 and Manasi Kapoor ’10. Step Forward is Macalester’s new fundraising initiative that aims to raise $150 million for the endowment, need-based financial scholarships and construction projects, primarily a new fine arts center. It is Macalester’s endeavor to align the college’s funds with its priorities and values. The campaign is traveling to eight cities throughout the United States and London, to connect with alumni and raise funds.

I got off the subway at 50th street and ran through Rockefeller Center filled with ice skaters and mid-evening shoppers. I bumped into Laurie standing on Fifth Avenue around the corner from 1 W. 54th St.-our swanky, sweater-vest filled, University Club hotel. As I wiped off the sweat that had crept up the back of my neck, Laurie coolly handed me my speech. “It looks good, Eleni,” she told me, and while I didn’t really believe her, some part of me said, “well, she said so,” and everything’s fine. We waited for Owen Trusdell ’11 and Manasi Kapoor ’10, two other Mac students who had flown in with the staff earlier that morning. Owen, dressed in a suit and black overcoat, wasn’t let in without a tie, so we skipped a group meeting in the hotel and booked it to Park Avenue. Off to the Waldorf.

The Waldorf-Astoria. While it’s not The Plaza, the Waldorf is still one of those Manhattan luxury hotels that you imagine must only exist in the movies. At the time my whole body was clenched by nerves, excitement and anxiety, and I could barely process the art-deco design canopying the entrance or the gold flanked doors, let alone the women in ball gowns decked in pearls walking through them. If you asked me now, I’m not sure I could give you an accurate description of the lobby, but I remember thinking, “damn.”

The two social halls set aside for the campaign were less garish than you’d expect from such a ritzy joint, but they exuded an atmosphere of simple elegance that I think Macites can appreciate. I was led into the social hall with the podium, video screen, and 25-odd round tables. Laurie asked me to do a brief run through of my speech for a mic-check.

The e-mail I received from Laurie asking me to be the student speaker for the Step Forward-New York dinner, fell into my inbox completely out of the blue. When she first told me that I was chosen, I was, to say the least, utterly confused. I told Laurie that I’m not one to be chosen as an institutional cheerleader; I have my share of gripes and haven’t been terribly shy at expressing them. I told her that I’m probably not the best candidate solely because I left the school for a year to study abroad and my bank of Macalester stories is consequently smaller than that of my peers. “I know,” she assured me, “I’m not asking for a sugar-coated story, I want to hear your experience, what you have gained from Mac.”

Back at the Waldorf, my uneasiness began to slip away as people started coming in to the social hall, set aside for the hors d’oeurves and dessert. Owen, Manasi and I were sent to “schmooze” with guests. I am, unfortunately, not the best at networking, but who can pass up a good round of retro Mac tales, gossip on what my professors were like 30 years ago and grievances with past administrations? Exchanging stories of dorm fiascos and current situations, everyone was in a particularly energetic mood. Alumni from all years were connecting and re-connecting. Young alums tried to scope out the alumni job network, and others told me they had “dropped out of the Mac loop altogether” and were now trying to “push [themselves] back in.” I talked to one man who was an editor of Chanter in the mid-80s, taught poetry for a while, and is now a wine seller. Another alumnus, now an oceanographer, was a columnist for The Mac Weekly in the 70s. On a whim one woman moved to Tanzania, and another became an expert on rent control. Each had their own story to tell, their own adventures, but everyone wanted to know about Mac right now. “Is Wallace still there?” “Has the food improved at Café Mac?” “Does David McCurdy still live in the Carnegie basement?” “How’s the softball team doing?” “Have you taken a geography class yet?”

At the sound of our beloved bagpipes (did you think Mac wouldn’t have its finest piper at the dinner?!), the mass of Macites swam across the marble lobby to the second room with the round tables and Step Forward banners flanking the room’s perimeter. Each table became an island of a diversity of classes. I sat with two ’89ers, a few’77ers and a couple of ’06ers. Mike Klingensmith (P’11), who was the host of the evening, encouraged everyone to introduce themselves to their table neighbors.

During my speech, I talked about my idea of Mac’s “international spirit”-one that went beyond the U.N. flag and a relatively high percentage of international students. The internationalism I had learned at Macalester was more about a redefinition of home and our places of belonging-that we as students are behooved to recognize the manner in which we change the places we belong to and, simultaneously, the way we are changed by them. Home, I decided, was no longer just my house on the B-line, but was also Turck One, The Mac Weekly office, the Veggie Co-op, my house off St. Clair Avenue, the streets in Northern Ireland and the cafes in the Netherlands.

Before I could process the applause at the end of my speech, President Brian Rosenberg had found himself on the podium. He spoke with his usual casual eloquence, winning the audience with his erudition, polished manners and New York sensibility. Jerry Crawford, the director of the campaign, came on next. Crawford is a real character, a born schmoozer. Something about his persona, the way he carried himself at the lectern made you feel like he could be talking to you alone. During his speech, which was aimed at clarifying the financial goals of the campaign itself, he made a point to share some of the stories he had heard from alumni during the previous hour. A graduate of the class of 1944, a tiny woman stood up from her table and beamed. She had come from Connecticut on a train by herself to come to the dinner. She had walked in early into the room where I was practicing my speech. “I saw the plaid and I knew I was in the right place,” she said.

After Jerry’s stump speech, the renowned Step Forward campaign video was shown, spotlighting the globetrotting lifestyles and activities of current Mac students, faculty members and alumni: a Faculty Seminar in Jerusalem, Economics internships in Geneva, organic farming in Wisconsin, investment banking at Merrill Lynch, and a diplomatic post in the United Nation’s Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. The video brought spurts of cheers from the audience for fellow alumni and beloved professors.

I was still in an adrenaline-rushed state when we moved back to the first room for desserts after the speeches. The speeches and video were springboards for new conversations and connections. Hugs, handshakes and business cards were exchanged. I spoke to several alumni who came to congratulate me on my speech. Many told me how the night reminded them of their favorite moments from their time at Macalester, and I left the dinner feeling that
the Macalester community stretches farther than our St. Paul campus.

View Comments (9)
More to Discover

Comments (9)

All The Mac Weekly Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Julian DickensSep 11, 2019 at 1:17 am

    Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your web site, how can i subscribe for a blog site? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been tiny bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright clear idea

  • E

    Emma MartinSep 6, 2019 at 9:40 pm

    Awsome info and right to the point. I am not sure if this is truly the best place to ask but do you guys have any ideea where to get some professional writers? Thanks in advance 🙂

  • P

    PeterPiperPizzacouponsJul 30, 2019 at 5:57 am

    Yeah, nice posting but In the initial step. You says promote to women and men which you have mentioned within your content material.

  • S

    Sky Zone CouponJul 29, 2019 at 10:02 pm

    Excellent post Brian the method that you covered all the techniques for website owners.

  • J

    Jana RagainJun 20, 2019 at 6:57 am

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It if truth be told used to be a entertainment account it. Look complex to far delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how could we keep in touch?