'Great Minds' Gather for Fiftieth Anniversary Fete of Brooklyn College's Scholars Program

May 19, 2011

“Great minds think alike” may not always be true. But at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Scholars Program, it certainly was. Great minds past and present all agreed that Brooklyn College’s oldest honors program—the oldest of its kind in CUNY—is terrific.

The 50-year celebration was marked Thursday, April 7, when roughly 50 current scholars and an equal number of the program’s alumni, along with representatives from the college administration, faculty and staff, gathered to plan the next half century of the Scholars Program.

The evening featured a brief wine-and-cheese reception, a trio of seminars by faculty members and dinner in the Christoph M. Kimmich Reading Room at the Brooklyn College Library. President Karen L. Gould was among the invited guests.

Lisa Schwebel, director of the Scholars Program, launched the festivities by welcoming young and old. She said that a lot of things had changed over the half-century since the first scholars entered the program in 1961. But some important things have not changed, she noted.

“Standards of education in the Scholars Program have remained constant,” she said proudly. “There has been a continuity of excellence.”

Current scholar Elizabeth Cusick, a junior who spent two years at Penn State, which she found too big and impersonal, was in full agreement with that assessment. And she knew why. “It’s the people connected with the Scholars Program,” she says. “They always listen to you and are happy to talk to you and give their advice and encouragement.”

In addition to the annual $4,000 Presidential Scholarship and free laptop that each member of the current cohort of scholars receives, those in attendance at the celebration also got the chance to talk with a number of those who had gone before. At dinner the generations sat side by side and talked.

Like Professor Arthur Bankoff, ’65, a member of the program’s very first cohort. Facing the choice between Columbia University and Brooklyn College, this former scholar chose Brooklyn then went on to get his doctorate from Harvard. Now the chair of the college’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, he said, “I made the right choice.”

Other former Scholars, like Joe Shattan, ’71, a history major who went on to earn a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, eventually wrote speeches for one president, two vice presidents and three members of the cabinet. He’s now retired from government service and with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, where he is still writing speeches.

Shattan’s advice for today’s scholars? “First, spend more time in the lounge and, second, interact with your peers more. They are very talented kids and could be the beginning of lifelong friendships. Third, be happy. You’re at an unusual institution, you are gifted, and you have bright futures.”

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