Botstein’s thoughts on life, optimism and human potential

I’ve been thinking for quite a while about what I could possibly share here, as life at Bard seems to be very repetitive. You wake up, you go to classes, you eat meals with your friends, you do your homeworks and then you repeat. But while browsing through the photos on my phone I realized that the beauty of being a Bardian lies in those small things you encounter in-between: seeing a badger for the first time in your life, walking the forest hiking route in snow, dropping into random people’s recitals in the Conservatory, or getting to know new and interesting people almost every day. And then there is the day when you get invited to the President’s house for a tea.

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Every semester Bard College President Leon Botstein invites the visiting students to his home, which is located at the center of the campus. When I arrived at his front door on that sunny late-February afternoon I was quite surprised that it was open – you could just walk in. All the international students were there, along with our coordinators, talking and eating snacks in the living room. Soon President Botstein arrived and he was there with us for 1.5 hours, asking and answering questions. He is a very good speaker and it was nice to listen to him.


He shared many things with us, e.g. what does he think distinguishes Bard graduates and how does he fundraise money for Bard. In one of his answers he mentioned that he is a positive person. This caught my attention so I asked what makes him an optimist and where does he get the strength from in times of difficulty. His response was very interesting.

He said that part of the answer is very personal. Being from a European Jewish family, his father was the only survivor of Holocaust from a whole family and his mother only survived with two other family members. He has seen how they rebuilt their lives, against great odds. Because of this he sees the problems of life in a greater perspective and does not feel entitled to anything, but knows that you have to work hard if you want to achieve something.
He also lost his 8-year-old daughter many years ago and that always reminds him what a great gift and how precious life is and how grateful we should be simply for living.

Another reason for his optimism is that through making music and being in contact with young people he always sees opportunities in humans. Opportunities for creative achievement, for making something beautiful, for progress. According to him doing this creative work with other people plays an important part in his optimism.

And this thought can be generalized about Bard: if you take the time to see what people around you are doing on campus you get very hopeful. People engage in arts, debate, starting initiatives and getting exposure to so many different things, simply by taking advantage of what this liberal arts college has to offer. It is a unique place: I would have never thought that I will explore connections between my Hindu epics, my Buddhism, my Modern Dance and my Alexander Technique classes. But thoughts and ideas cross academic disciplines, and this is exactly why it is worth to go to Bard – the exposure you get here will make you open towards and interested in many different spheres of life. And in my opinion it is an invaluable gift.


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