Wednesday, December 06, 2017

"Fortune" the Fall 1979 student directory for Thunderbird

Sorting through stuff is a regular job here.  We have accumulated lots and going through it can be tedious but at times rewarding.  Rewarding in the sense of "thank god that desk is cleaned up or that closet is now usable" or in the sense of "this is really an interesting find."  That occurred today when unearthing a directory from my time at American Graduate School of International Management, aka Thunderbird.

It's a book of student photos from 1979.  One of the things that has always been said by rote about Thunderbird at that time is that there were "800 students on campus representing 55 countries."  As I went through the directory today, the countries were not counted but that oft said statement is probably correct.  As I look, there's Amin from Sudan, the first student that I met there when arriving in June of that year.  Wandering around sweating profusely and lost, I approached Amin and he showed me to my room and told me how to turn on the swamp cooler.  That is not air conditioning, but some sort of blowing amplified humidity.  He remained a good friend.

Quickly turning the pages, many faces and names were familiar.  The school was not a big place and it was in an isolated location outside of Phoenix, a former army air force training base from WWII.  I looked in the directory for friends and recognized many acquaintances as well.  Many students from the Middle East attended and there's Mohsen from Egypt, now CEO of a food company in Saudi Arabia, Muhannad from Beirut, now co-CEO of a bank in Qatar, and Fady, a former Fatah fighter who was hard to have much of a conversation with, a man of little words and many cigarettes.  But, he had your back.

There are a few whose family names were recognizable, and they were connected.  For some U.S. students then, and many in the past, it was almost a "finishing school" for those destined to be head of private or closely held public corporations which had international operations.  Charlie was a nice guy who called no attention to himself and had a low key sense of self deprecating humor.  Another was in the fast lane, did little work, and lived well off campus, was not at all a jerk, just apart.  We played tennis at his apartment complex. Many of the foreign students were from wealthy backgrounds, coming from Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, Cameroon, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Argentina, Nigeria, India, Ecuador, and many other nations, how else would they have ended up studying in Arizona at that time?  Most were not showy at all, and eager to integrate themselves into the campus community.

The largest country contingent of foreign students was from Japan.  They were primarily at the school to learn English and many socialized almost solely with each other.  They took courses that seemed designed to educate but with little rigor for language reasons.  Some of the American students breezed through by taking those tailored  courses in marketing and administration.  They studied constantly, and when some guys infrequently came to the campus bar, most would  immediately drink heavily and in an hour or two be helped out.  One Japanese, picture found, went by the name Steve, and totally melded with others as he already spoke English fairly well.  During Christmas break, he joined a cross country non stop car trip with myself and another who wanted to take his car.  Each of us drove, although I admit to never sleeping when Steve was behind the wheel.  His experience seemed limited.  The highlight of that trip was when we stopped one evening in Nashville.  He couldn't stop laughing about everything.  Really he was just having a wonderful time.

Of course, there were many other friends.  Susan, from Vancouver, was a close friend, guitar playing Leonard Cohen fan, not a finance whiz but she eventually became a child psychiatrist, now practicing in Albuquerque.  Anne, Laurie, Jenny, Andy, Sal, Jim, Kadry, and others ended up in New York banking, and stayed friends here for a few years.  Bruce started in banking in Chicago, but eventually became head of a small but well known hedge fund in New York.  Laurie eventually got a law degree and became General Counsel for Visa, the credit card company.  Jim and Judy were good friends in New York, tired of the city and moved on together, first to Indiana, then Florida, their respective home states.  Andy tired of banking and went into a foreign service career, which I had once aspired to, and served in various French speaking African countries but most recently in Kurdistan.  Niels was eventually U.S. ambassador to Madagascar, Cameroon, and other countries.  Larry from Spokane was at the school to learn Japanese, a very funny guy who did get his wish and ended up working in Japan.

This could go on and on, but no one is likely reading at this point, unless they were there.  Thunderbird at that time had enough good teachers if you wanted them.  It had a well run career center that attracted businesses who wanted graduates.  It was a social place, and had a Pub that was just about 1000 feet from my dorm room, where most nights people would eventually gather inside at the bar, in the courtyard, or around the foosball tables.  Almost every weekend there would be a country or region night party.  For some reason an African night is remembered, as students and former peace corps workers who had lived there danced in an intense crazed way endlessly.

Finding the directory brought this rant on.  As soon as the writing stops, another thought comes, another Susan who now runs an African relief project, but this is over.


Postscript:   One necessary exception to the "this is over" statement.  In writing about the many students from other countries, I forgot to mention those from Iran.  How many there were is uncertain now, but maybe as many as ten.  Some the most intense arguments that would take place in the dining room were among those students.  Some were pro-Shah and that tradition and others were vehemently anti-western.  This was hostage taking time, November 1979.  I had one Iranian friend on campus, but she was not part of the arguing men.  She was part of the Baha'i faith, a distinct sect that was disliked by other Iranians generally.  She was hoping to stay in the U.S. and not return there.  I do not remember her name, but she was a smart person and interesting to get to know.  Her picture may not have been in the book.

Postscript 2:   Two of the photos were of students, John and Mark, who found jobs in Manhattan but died there in 1984, caught up in the AIDS plague at that time.







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