Friday, July 16, 2010
I had contact with two gentlemen over 95 years of age today. One at lunch and the other through reading his memoirs of growing up in Pittsburg, Kansas - Dr. Dale Corson. Both of these men have had outstanding careers and made significant contributions to society. Dr. Corson was an outstanding president of Cornell University and Dr. Royse Murphy is an internationally renown plant breeder and former Dean of the University Faculty at Cornell. It is striking for both these men that a series of serendipitous events converged with their ambitions, creativity and education to enable them to make enormous contributions. Their early childhoods took place on Kansas farms and both did not start school until they were seven. From humble beginnings as sons of farmers they reached the heights of academic and worldly influence. It is challenging to think of why these persons rose to such high levels of attainment out of the thousands of their generation from the same humble backgrounds. I am sure much of the success was simply they were smarter and harder working than some others. On the other hand, there also had to be some random juxtaposition of people and events converging at the right time to spur them to greater heights.
I guess all of us as we become more senior can point to serendipitous moments in our lives that were seminal in directing our personal and professional lives. Rather than thinking it is mostly chance, there is a part we have responsibility for. It is not what happens to us alone, but it also is how we deal with what happens to us.