By Arnold Hayes ’86
I went into the talk by John Lauder ’68, “Life Decisions in the Summer of Love: Why James Garfield, Oliver Cromwell, Pikovaya Dama, Steely Dan, the Curve of Binding Energy, and All of Liberal Arts Education Matter in Public Leadership,” on Saturday, June 14, at Alumni Weekend, with a bit of hesitation. I figured a fellow who graduated in 1968 amidst all that summer of love stuff would be a tad bit on the Timothy Leary, power-to-the-people side (and I’m just a tad more conservative). However, to my pleasant surprise, he was well-spoken, non-partisan and didn’t look at all like a hippie.
Lauder engaged a standing-room-only audience as he talked about his experiences in government and at Hiram. He served in the Central Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, and as an arms control negotiator for 33 years until his retirement in 2004. He has played a prominent role in the James Garfield Institute for Public Leadership, established in 2007, and one of Hiram’s six Centers of Excellence.
Lauder related not only some interesting pieces of political information, but also interesting anecdotes about Hiram, and his time here. For instance, throughout Lauder’s four years at Hiram, James Garfield was only mentioned twice. The first was at a convocation by military historian S.L.A. Marshall, who spoke on Garfield as a soldier. The second time was during a debate on campus about what time women should be returned to their dorms after a night out (apparently, Garfield got around). He was a teetotaler in college, but learned to drink when dealing with the Russians – he felt it was a requisite for the job, and he became very good at it – eventually, he said, being able to drink students under the table because he was used to “Russian drinking.”
Lauder also spoke positively about government service, while admitting that government often drops the baby into the bath water (or is that throws the baby out with the bath water?). A case in point: the government, in response to the 1999 quake in Turkey, began actively addressing government response to such crises – natural disasters, the inadequate response to which would shake the people’s faith their government. With timing that seemed only to prove the point, no sooner had he been involved in one such meeting than Hurricane Katrina struck.
He addressed concerns of those in the audience who felt justifiably cynical about government, in light of such crises as the weapons of mass destruction failure in Iraq, and the delayed government reaction to Hurricane Katrina. He had a positive way of addressing the questions without polarizing the audience, or his answers.
One thing I wasn’t sure of going in was the connection from the title of Lauder’s presentation: “Life Decisions in the Summer of Love: Why James Garfield, Oliver Cromwell, Pikovaya Dama, Steely Dan, the Curve of Binding Energy, and All of Liberal Arts Education Matter in Public Leadership” Lauder told some stories about these, and how they connected with his life at – and after – Hiram. One of the more amusing ones involved Pikovaya Dama, a Russian Operetta. Lauder carried it around with him when he was trying to learn Russian so that he could effectively communicate in arms negotiations – whether or not he effectively learned Russian is debatable, but he WAS effective in his negotiations. The lead guitarist of Steely Dan, he went on to say, was gifted in music – but branched out into environmental and other issues much bigger than music – and was effective in doing so.
Lauder’s bigger point was that a liberal arts education – one that was multidisciplinary and fostered critical thinking and open-mindedness – is vital for anyone to be successful in public leadership.
Anywho, I thought John Lauder was a very engaging speaker; apparently, I wasn’t alone in that feeling, as many stayed past his allotted one hour to ask him more questions. I liked him as well, and his educational presentation. In fact, I’d give him two thumbs up if he were a movie.