The old guy in the classroom may not look like a typical Stanford student, but he is living the dream the rest of those in the room are lucky enough to share.
I started as a fellow in Stanford’s year-long Distinguished Careers Institute (DCI) program last September and I have loved every minute of my time here.
DCI was created in 2015 by Dr. Phil Pizzo, the former Dean of the Stanford School of Medicine (now in his late 70s, and a former Catholic who converted to Judaism and is currently studying to become a rabbi, demonstrating vividly to all of us that learning has no age limits).
Our cohort consists of about 30 each year, a few of whom bring their partners to participate in the program. We are happily welcomed in most classes across the University — I have taken courses in history, law, medicine, psychology, writing, ethics and more.
I have had the privilege of absorbing wisdom from historian David Kennedy, psychologist and longevity expert Laura Carstensen, ethicist Rob Reich and neuroscientist David Eagleman, but also lesser known but significant talents such as poet and memoir teacher John Evans, visiting family law instructor Joanna Grossman and many others.
And we are fortunate to have a new “faculty dialogue” every Wednesday with Stanford professors we might not otherwise have the opportunity to get to know.
DCI builds its program on three pillars: community, purpose and wellness. But for me, and I believe for most of us, what emerges during the year as the most profound and meaningful experience is community, both within our cohort and throughout Stanford.
We come from a wide range of backgrounds (mine was film, television and journalism) and locations. My cohort has three Brazilians, one Venezuelan, two from the UK, one from China and of course many from all over the US (including one from New Jersey, myself).
The alchemy somehow works brilliantly. Do we all love each other? Perhaps not. But I am confident in saying we all get along, engage in frequent conversations, socialize and, above all, help each other in ways I did not think were possible.
When one of the members of our cohort was hit by a car while riding his bicycle early in the year, the cohort was there for him and his family, providing food, care and emotional support. People are frequently offering the use of their homes to other fellows (and their families). And the exchange of introductions, and dare I say, wisdom, among fellows has been ongoing and without the need for any quid pro quo.
Graciousness and generosity are manifest on a regular basis in the program among people who didn’t know each other at all and now are willing, indeed eager, to go the extra mile for one another.
At the core of DCI is something called the Life Transformation Reflection, or LTR. We are not required to do it, but nearly everyone does.
The LTR is a 20 minute “presentation” by each fellow, and happens on Wednesdays. The fellow chooses what they want to talk about. There are neither requirements nor limitations (beyond a general appreciation for civility).
They can be and have been funny and lighthearted. But many have been stunningly personal and revealing, and have brought many of us to tears.
It is a tribute to the program and its creators that the LTR is a place where people of considerable achievement feel comfortable to share in many cases stories they admit they have never shared with anyone outside their partners — and in some cases not even that.
Then there is the incredibly important intergenerational piece of our experience. I’m the oldest member of our cohort. There. I said it. I have a granddaughter who is nearly old enough to be a Stanford freshman.
I love being a part of a great university with so many energetic, motivated, gifted young people pursuing so many different pathways, many of whom I have met in the classroom, at panels and events with Knight-Hennessy Scholars, at MSx (Masters in Management) mixers, in undergraduate courses and through random interactions that have enhanced my experience here — and perhaps even theirs a bit.
I’ve gone to dozens of sporting events here, attended many lectures and other events outside of the classroom, explored the campus and beyond, yet only scratched the surface of what this place has to offer.
I don’t know what they think of me, but I have interacted with many students, and they have been wonderful, and I wish and hope I am around long enough to know what they accomplish in coming years.
September to August isn’t enough time. I am on campus most days from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Not long enough.
That old guy in the classroom knows how lucky he is to be here, and he is grateful to the Stanford community for being so welcoming.
Joe Seldner is a 2022 Stanford Distinguished Careers Institute Fellow. He was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist, creative executive to Tom Hanks, writer and producer and raised his kids on his own. He went to Yale and Columbia. And he loves Stanford.