Optimism and Reality

By Eva Szeszko ’20

As a junior last school year, Eva Szeszko became the Illinois State Champion, representing the Optimist Club of Oak Park.

“Is there a fine line between optimism and reality?” The band Queen took the world by storm during its reign in the 1970s. They introduced the world to a new type of rock and produced hit songs that are still celebrated and sung today. Of these songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is perhaps the most well-known. The six-minute song is an unlikely source of optimism, but upon listening to the mere first verse, I was struck with the lyrics’ undiscovered potential. In these lyrics, I found the metaphorical line between optimism and reality.

Freddie Mercury begins the song by asking, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” His rhetorical questions are the same that we must ask ourselves. Are we approaching situations realistically? Are we optimistic in setting our goals? We must ask ourselves these questions before reaching a decision. It is not enough to approach every situation with a singularly realistic point of view. With no optimism, life becomes dreary. However, on the other hand, we must make certain that optimism does not overpower our decisions and goals. Further along in the first verse, Freddie Mercury also sings the line, “Easy come, easy go.” Through this assertion, he perfectly embodies the relationship between realism and optimism. One must be able to handle any situation accordingly, but the person must also have hope that the situation will get better. Not only did Queen release an American icon, they also unlocked the secret to optimism and realism.

Realism is the tendency to accept things as they are. Optimism, at its core, is just realism interspersed with hope. An optimist must be able to look at reality with positivity and hope for a better future. Because of their relationship, optimism and realism co-exist. Being too realistic can be harmful to one’s outlook on life. Imagine a doctor telling someone that they have been diagnosed with cancer and have a slim chance of overcoming the disease. A realist would accept the diagnosis and understand that the survival rate is very low. Yet, is there not more? How can we just accept a dire situation like this, and not hope and work for a better outcome? Because of this, being too realistic is not beneficial to one’s life. One must also sprinkle in a little bit of optimism in every situation encountered. The Optimist Creed states that we must “talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person [we] meet.” In other words, every situation can use a bit of optimism. Through this codependency, one can find the blurred line between optimism and reality.

Freddie Mercury and Queen rocked out in the 1970s. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released in 1975.

The stereotypical idea of an optimist is one who never stops smiling, no matter the circumstances. However, this is not an accurate description. True optimists use both optimism and realism to their advantage. They use realism to accept the situation that has been handed to them. They then use optimism to make the situation better. They are able to overlook the negativity and work for a better tomorrow. These optimists may not always be sporting a smile, but they remain hopeful for a better future. They do not solely rely on realism; nor do they solely rely on optimism. Similarly, we all must find the balance between these two philosophies in order to better ourselves.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” although an unlikely source, has been my inspiration for optimism. This example goes to show that optimism is all around us, we just need to be willing to notice. Simply put, we must look at each situation realistically. Then, just over the horizon, the shining rays of optimism must be found. At that intersection, we all will find the “Fine Line Between Optimism and Reality.”

Optimist International is an international service club organization with almost 3,000 clubs and over 80,000 members in more than 20 countries. 

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Alumni Friars Teaching in Academia

It’s “cool” to be smart at Fenwick, and these Ph.D. scholars have taken their intellectual talents to a higher level as university professors.

By Mark Vruno

Fenwick instructors have honed developing minds of highly intelligent people over thecourse of 90 school years. From physics and politics to English and French, some of those students took their passions for learning to the next level by pursuing research, education and scholarship at some of the world’s most prestigious private and public universities.

Holder Hall at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, where two Fenwick alumni teach.

At Princeton, the Ivy League research school with New Jersey roots dating back to 1746, two Fenwick alumni-turned-professors can be found teaching on campus: Thomas Duffy ’78 (geophysics) and John Mulvey ’64 (operations research/financial engineering). In Boston, Professor William Mayer ’74 has been a political-science guru at Northeastern University (established in 1898) for the past 28 years. After Fenwick, Mayer attended Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from which he also earned a Ph.D. (in 1989). “I don’t like to move,” he dead-pans, “plus my wife loves the New England area.”

On the West Coast, one of Prof. Duffy’s classmates, Larry Cahill ’78, is a neuroscientist and professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California at Irvine. And in the Midwest, Robert Lysak ’72 is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis – Saint Paul.

Additionally, two members of the Class of 1961 were college professors and are now retired: Terrence Doody (English Literature) at Rice University in Houston and Thomas Kavanagh (French), most recently at Yale University in Connecticut. Another Professor Emeritus isJohn Wendt ’69, who taught Ethics and Business Law at the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) for 30 years. (Read more about them.) Spread out geographically across the United States, Fenwick is the common denominator for these seven Ph.D.’s and college professors. Read on for a glimpse at their impressive works.

A Computing Love Affair

John Mulvey in 1964.

John Mulvey is a professor within Princeton’s Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department, which he founded. He also is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Bendheim Center for Finance as well as the Statistics and Machine Learning Center at the university. Mulvey is captivated by the ongoing revolution in information and machine-learning. The ORFE Department focuses on the foundations of data science, probabilistic modeling and optimal decision-making under uncertainty. “Our world is a very uncertain place,” he stresses.

The work Mulvey does has applications throughout the service sector, including in communications, economics/finance, energy/the environment, health-care management, physical and biological sciences, and transportation. In the past, he has worked with aerospace/defense-technology firm TRW (now part of Northrop Grumman) to help solve military problems, including developing strategic models for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (U.S. Department of Defense).

“Today we work with major firms, including some of the largest investors in the world, which are interested in integrating their risk,” Mulvey explains. For example, “hedge funds and private-equity firms need to manage their portfolios over time to protect themselves. When the crash occurred in 2008, people thought they were diversified. The banking and finance world refers to systemic risk as contagion,” which is the spread of market changes or disturbances from one regional market to others.

Mulvey also analyzes data for supply-chain management, which he calls a “transformative industry. Production and distribution models were separate before,” he points out, “but we’ve brought it all together now. Amazon has built its whole system based on this commerce model.”

Prof. Mulvey at Princeton.

Machines running algorithms and computer optimization became passions for him at a relatively young age. At Fenwick, Mr. Edward Ludwig helped mathematics to make sense for young John. “He was an amazing math teacher,” Mulvey says of Ludwig. “His class was fantastic. I didn’t necessarily want to be an engineer but felt I could go into a technical area.

“In the 1960s we were at the cusp of computing, and the University of Illinois had one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers at the time,” recalls Mulvey, who grew up on the West Side of Chicago and attended the old St. Catherine of Siena Parish. “That’s why I wanted to go there, and I fell in love with computing.”

The ILLIAC IV supercomputer is what drew Mulvey to the University of Illinois in the mid-1960s.

He next ventured west to study business administration at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California (Cal), then earned a second master’s degree in management science in ’72 from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Three years later Mulvey completed his Ph.D. at UCLA’s Graduate School of Management. His dissertation topic, “Special Structures in Large Scale Network Models and Associated Applications,” won the 1976 American Institute of Decision Sciences Doctoral Dissertation Competition.

Mulvey taught for three years at the Harvard Business School and, 41 years ago, came to Princeton “to have an impact at a smaller school,” he says. (Princeton has some 5,200 under-grads.) “I came here to grow the basic, general engineering program for undergraduates.” The 72-year-old thoroughly enjoys his work: “If you had a job like mine, you wouldn’t want to retire.”

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