April 9, 2015 Address by Daniel J. Siegel
To the Inductees of the Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society
& To the Recipients of Sid Wise Public Service Internships
Thank you Professor Medvic. I want to thank the College and the Government Department for inviting me to address you tonight. I also want to congratulate all of you for being inducted into the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society. This wasn’t here when I was here as a government major, but I think it’s a very good thing, and in particular, I’m happy that this is also coordinated with the Sid Wise Internship recipient awards. For those of you who don’t know Sid Wise or didn’t know Sid Wise, you’ll know a lot more about him, I hope, tonight. And like so many things on the campus, including the building we’re in, these didn’t exist when I attended F&M three decades ago. But I’m still thrilled to be here, partly because this is a time when I’m with professors who mattered to me, who I had.
Professor Michalak, Professor Karlesky, Professor Friedrich – Professor Stephenson isn’t here tonight nor is Professor Gray – but they played important roles in my life, and they continue to do so with the Sid Wise legacy that I’m going to talk about.
I’m here tonight, not because I was invited to be here.
I’m here tonight, not because I’m an alum.
I’m here because of how F&M mattered to me – because of the professors. Because the professors that I had at F&M cared about me, not just as a student, but they cared about me because of how they wanted to make sure that we grew as students, not at just at the school but after and, I’ve been in touch with them for many years. And they care because of Sid Wise. And ask all of them that, and they’ll tell you the same thing.
They learned from Sid that the most important thing that they can do is to learn about the students, to care about students and to help their students find their niche. Help them find and achieve their potential, which is what happened with Sid Wise and me. I am not talking merely about financial success, but success in other realms and by other measures. When you look at the book The Wise Legacy that Professor Medvic mentioned, you’ll see people who are financially successful, but when you look at them, you’re going to see that they are successful for lots of other reasons.
So, let me tell you a little about Sid Wise, who he was and why he mattered.
He was a government professor here from 1952 to 1989, but he was way more than that. He was a mentor – not just to students, but to the faculty, the administrators and to others. Anyone who knew him will tell you that the reason F&M is what it is today is because of how Sid Wise transformed this campus. He could see the best in people and bring out their skills – their special skills – something that’s a particular insight that most of us don’t have.
What is my book, The Wise Legacy?
It’s not a traditional biography. It’s not me writing, oh, Sid was a wonderful person. Lots of us could do that. It’s a biography that took me 6-1/2 years to write because I interview some and when I say some, I mean only a handful of the lives Sid Wise changed.
There are approximately 40 interviews in the book, and that is a handful of countless people whose lives were changed all because they met Sid Wise. Since the book was published a couple of months ago, I’ve heard from more people who we didn’t know were touched by Sid Wise. Some who were students here. One was a biology major – others who didn’t even go here, because he had that impact on them. And it’s a biography that highlights the importance of networking, what we do now through LinkedIn.
The book focuses on students whose careers were framed because of internships – not paid summer jobs, but experiences that opened their eyes to what would eventually become their passions. That’s what he did for students, and writing that book, which started out as – I’m going to write the Sid Wise biography – really for me turned into a passion and for those of us who have shared some of that passion – Professor Michalak, Professor Karlesky, Professor Friedrich – you understand what that project became to me and what I hope it becomes to the F&M community and to others.
I had no idea when I said that I was going to write the book about Sid Wise who I would meet or where the book would take me and take others. But it introduced me to so many people. If you look at the list of the people that are interviewed in that book, it’s a Who’s Who. It’s many people who do not allow interviews. Such as Rick Plepler who will be your commencement speaker this year. He doesn’t grant interviews. When he became CEO of HBO, he did not let the New York Times interview him. When he heard I was writing a biography of Sid Wise, his door opened, and we were in his office ten days later. That’s what Sid Wise means. When you mention that name, doors open without question. They do. Mary Schapiro, the Chair of the SEC. She saw me two weeks after I contacted her because she said, if you’re writing a Sid Wise book, you’re welcome to come in.
Rick Plepler – Earl Devaney, someone you may not have heard about. He was in charge of the Stimulus Bill, preventing fraud in that. He uncovered the Abramoff scandal and so much more. His career was because Sid Wise said, “Son, you shouldn’t go to law school. You should go into the Secret Service,” and it changed his life. Again and again, by writing this book, doors opened. People who didn’t know me – most of the people in that book did not know me, but they heard that I was writing the book about Sid Wise and every door opened. The legacy of Sid Wise isn’t that some people were financial successes. They are successes because Sid Wise was important to them.
There’s a woman in the book who I never met named Marie Falco. She’s a PhD who was active in the American Political Science Association, but she was a woman, and people didn’t take women seriously when she was getting her PhD. Sid did. When she found out that I had written the book, and it was published, she wrote me and she said that Sid treated her with respect and she said, “he was such a good friend, always.” That’s what she wrote. She wrote that this week. Sid has not been with us for 21 years, and I suggest to you, that you talk to Professor Friedrich, Professor Michalak or me, and we will talk to you about someone as though he’s in the next room. Because that was what Sid Wise did for people.
It’s an unusual feeling, and these are the people here who knew Sid as a Professor. Professor Michalak, Karlesky. They understand, and he made and helped them become exceptional professors. Someone here mentioned Professor Stephenson to me because he taught – we’d call it Gov. 11. Yes. Because Sid Wise is the one who said the best professors – the seasoned professors – have to teach the introductory courses because we have to encourage and capture the best students. And all of these professors, those who are here and the others that I’ve mentioned, they’ve created a legacy that may be unrivaled anywhere at the best schools. You have people who Sid Wise challenged and made great, and the list of the people in the book is a Who’s Who. If we got them in a room, as my son Douglas who I’m very proud of said, they could rule the world – and it’s true. They really could. They created generations of leaders.
There’s a woman in the book, Paula Dow. Most of you may not know who she is. She was Chris Christie’s Attorney General. She is an African-American Democratic woman from suburban Philadelphia, and she explained, that people need to care about more than money, and she said – and she’s now a Superior Court Judge in New Jersey – that Sid Wise inspired her great love for F&M. “Very much stemming from my relationship with Sid and the maturation process.” And she said, “the greatness and brilliance of Sid Wise is that he wasn’t polarizing. What he often focused on was – bring out the best of you and be engaged. Be engaged as part of the process. Don’t be so persuaded by the almighty dollar that you’ve forgotten what made us a nation.” And she was right.
And that’s what makes the Gov. Department at F&M so special and why, when you look at the people who graduated from this department, they’re leaders in all walks of life. In the courts – we’ve got alum who are federal court – appellate court judges. The halls of Congress – we’ve had congressman, countless aides. Jonathan Blyth, an alum, was charged with counting the number of alums that were on Capitol Hill because of Sid Wise’s legacy. It was typically 150 at a time, and they were always 50/50 Republican and Democrat because Sid didn’t care about your politics despite his own leanings. Government agencies – Al Zuck was a bureaucrat who helped make things better. He fixed the EPA under Ronald Reagan. The entertainment industry – Rick Plepler. He’ll address commencement, and he’ll tell you – Sid Wise inspired him to make a lot of the documentaries he’d do. Academia – there are countless people who have been inspired. Business, Journalism – you name an area of life and you’re going to find a legacy of Sid Wise. It just continues.
And you – you don’t even know Sid Wise, but you are legacies of him because you have been able to share his legacy through the professors who are here and who are better because of him. But at the same point, this is an interesting time because the Gov. Department, the college, you’re at a crossroads in some sense. Most of the people here, even the current professors, only will know Sid Wise through a book or maybe through a story. Most of his colleagues are retired, and some unfortunately are not with us anymore. But you’ll hear how special Sid was because he’s still here. He’s in this room because of all the other people including me who are in this room.
He became a part of my life on the first day of school when I had somehow been scheduled to take a science class – chemistry or bio. I knew, no, no, no, that’s not for me, and I went to see my randomly assigned advisor, and he guided me from that day on as a student, as a law student, as a lawyer and as a father. He was always in touch with me, and he wrote me a note that’s still on the wall of my office that tells me – and puts everything in perspective – telling me that events that have happened in my life are as trivial as becoming an editor of the paper, but becoming a father is important and always remember that the person whose most important for it is your wife – my wife Eileen, and he was right and he has continued to be right.
He has guided me even to this day. I’m an elected official, as Professor Medvic said, I’m an elected official who really tries to work with both parties in an area where I’m one of two Democrats out of nine elected officials – seven Republicans, but we get things done because Sid said, you have to be civil. You have to work with people.
Now, the Government Department is at somewhat of a crossroad because the Sid Wise legacies are starting to leave us. Most of those professors, unfortunately, are getting to a point where it’s that time. And they’re wonderful professors. How else can I say it? It’s time for a new generation. But the reality is this, that the faculty that are here have to recognize what Sid’s legacy is because they’re here partly because this department is so successful because of Sid Wise, and they have to realize that they have an obligation, too. To learn about students, to care about students – help students find their niche and achieve their potential. And continue to focus on teaching excellently because that’s what’s important. That’s why someone who took Grier Stephenson as a freshman becomes a government major. Excellent teachers do that, and that’s why that intro course to government is so important, and I hope is always taught by the most senior faculty.
Faculty have to care about not only the students, but what they become and stay in touch with students after you leave this campus. So that ten years ago when I was deciding what I was going to do with my career – I wanted a change. I wasn’t talking to my law professors. I was back at campus sitting here having lunch with Professor Michalak and Professor Karlesky who were helping to guide me and give me advice. They were the ones who mattered to me and whose advice I trusted more than the law professors who only knew me as some kid in a class. They learned. The professors here learn about students and encourage them. It’s – that’s why – you know, Sid Wise learned – I guess in that first meeting I had that I always wanted to write books, and suddenly he steered me to The College Reporter, and as you’ve heard, I’ve written eight books. I have one more in production and that’s what I love to do – is to write.
That’s how Nanine Hartzenbusch, a graduate of this school, who cared about foreign policy, but she cared most about being a photographer, and she wasn’t sure what to do with her career. Sid Wise suggested that she should pursue that career as a photojournalist, and she won the Pulitzer Prize as photojournalist because he had the faith in her and encouraged her to do that. That’s Sid Wise – recognizing that while academic achievements matter, the best that you do is you create more students and more people who care.
There’s a pastor, John Buchanan, who’s quoted in the book. John Buchanan, for his first paper, he got a D minus. Sid Wise wrote on there, “Son, you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool me. D minus.” That was Sid. John Buchanan learned from that and met Sid and said, “What do you mean?” Sid said, “You have a lot of potential but you gotta use it.” He went on to become the head of the Presbyterian Church of America and edits The Christian Century, one of the most progressive religious publications in the country. He said that when he met Sid and when he met the other professors – John Vanderzell and Dick Schier – they are the other two who are in that picture on the left side in the Commons Room. Sid was the shortest, but he’s the tallest in that picture and John Buchanan said, “that was something that connected for the first time in my life, and it ended in a career very different from politics,” because he was connected.
Sid Wise brought those areas together. The academic pursuit of public life and public policy, and that was the message that this government department has given to students for many years. Every government department professor should aspire to inspire students the way Sid taught John Buchanan and the way Joe Karlesky and John Vanderzell and Professor Michalak and Professor Friedrich – all of them and Professor Stephenson – taught me and so many others.
The college has to recognize that its mission is to mold lives and to create a generation of leaders to assure that the network of interns that Sid created – tons of interns – he recognized that that was the experience that matters. They have to keep that going and I hope that I’ll continue. I’ve had six interns from this college, all of whom are critical to the content of that book. They were brilliant. They were helpful. They were hugely helpful, and you have to realize that there are more things important than money.
That’s how Ken Duberstein, President Reagan’s Chief of Staff, began his career. It’s how Bill Gray as an intern became a Congressman and the head of the United Negro College Fund. He discovered his passion for politics because of Sid Wise. So many other students have done the same thing. Internships open the world to students. They show you what you love or you can discover what you love or what you don’t love. You compensate students with the experience, not with money. I hope the college follows that model and continues to, and I believe it will. We spoke today with President Porterfield, who believes in that. That’s where the college can go.
As I wrap up, this is a very special day for me. I am thrilled to be here. I never dreamed when I graduated F&M many years ago until I was reminded by someone that if he went to F&M, he’d graduate on my 35th reunion. Thanks. But it is a special day, not just because Douglas is being inducted. That’s very special to me because I didn’t push him to come here. He came here. He’s been a wonderful success, and my wife and I – Eileen and I are very proud of him. But it’s important because each of you is being honored, and for those of you who have received the Sid Wise Internships, you should know more than it’s just Sid Wise – who is this person?
I hope that each of you here, in the Government Honors – the Political Science Honors Society – Sid always called it government because government is about people and political science sounds more theoretical. Understand that you are part of this legacy in some way and that as graduates of F&M, you’re going to be charged with more than just becoming financially successful. You’re charged with carrying out Sid Wise’s legacy and the reputation that his legacies have throughout the world. Ken Duberstein, one of the most important people in Washington to this day, Rick Plepler, so many people. You are part of a special group of politicians, educators, religious leaders, lobbyists, business executives and others who understand the importance of public service, the importance of civility, the importance of respectful discussion and above all the importance of doing right and doing good.
John Pittenger, another of Sid’s colleagues, said that “Sid invented networking,” but he also taught his colleagues and others the importance of mentoring future generations. And it’s now for the seniors and juniors, it’s your turn to join that group. To paraphrase Paula Dow, who came to F&M at a time when she was only one of a few African Americans and left to eventually have such a great career, she said, “You have to be the best. You have to be engaged and you have to be engaged as part of the process.” Ken Duberstein said, “Do the right thing. Do what you think is right, not what’s political because the best politics is good governing, and if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves.”
I wish you all the best, and I want to thank F&M, Professor Medvic and the Government Department for inviting me. This really is a special opportunity for me, and I hope it means something for all of you. Thank you.