Six alums tell us about the conversation that changed their life.

by Andrew Wickenden ’09


“A co-worker once told me that she wanted to “be a fountain, not a drain.” I loved the expression and it really stuck in my head. I think a person who’s a “fountain” cares enough to listen. They don’t always make it about themselves. Their laughter is genuine. Their words are kind and thoughtful. Your friends who are “fountains” know where the proverbial bodies are buried but would never tell a soul. The “drain” is the kind of person who asks you a question then doesn’t listen to your answer. There’s always drama. They’re always late to meet you then give you some sketchy reason why. If there’s something in the back of your mind that says don’t trust them then you probably shouldn’t. In that conversation I decided I wanted to be a “fountain” and let the “drains” in my life disappear.”

—Milissa Rehberger ’93 is a daytime anchor for MSNBC, a 24-hour news television channel. She has held the position since 2004.


“Growing up I had a very close and relaxed relationship with my mother, the late Russelle Thompson. In 2002, I was sitting by my mother’s bedside where she lay dying from pancreatic cancer. Having lived through the terrorist attacks on September 11th and having provided pastoral care to rescue workers at Ground Zero at Trinity Wall Street and St. Paul’s Chapel the year before as a seminarian-intern, I was already spiritually and emotionally exhausted, wrestling with my faith amidst my arresting doubt. That evening, I told her through tears that I wanted to drop out of seminary and give up on becoming a priest. My mother squeezed my hand with the little strength she had left, pulled me close, and told me that her greatest hope and dream for me was to find my place in this world and not only love what I do, but make a positive difference in the world while doing it. Through labored breath, she told me that she didn’t make all the sacrifices she did just for me to walk away from that which she believed I was called and chosen to do. This conversation epitomized everything about my mother and our relationship. With all that she had, she emptied herself so that I could be made full, and her words still echo in my heart and continue to guide, nourish and sustain me 14 years into my ministry as an Episcopal Priest.”

—The Reverend Owen C. Thompson ’93 is an episcopal priest at Grace Episcopal Church in Nyack, N.Y.


“During summer vacations in high school, I worked in Manhattan at an office near the United Nations, and I would walk over there sometimes to eat lunch. Wandering the UN during that time convinced me that both a meaningful career and “joie de vivre” could be achieved by infusing an international flavor into whatever profession was pursued. I had a gift for foreign languages, a desire to help others, and loved to travel. So, armed with some French, German and Russian, I headed to the HWS campus on a mission. But, sometime during my second year, I met a teaching assistant headed for her Ph.D. in neurobiology who urged me to try the sciences – in fact, the real reason I had never taken any science courses was not because I shied away from the work, I simply had never even considered any scientific field, and certainly never considered medicine. But those few conversations, the support and mentoring, encouraged me to diversify. Now 32 years as faculty in medicine at Emory University, I remember and am thankful. I didn’t have to give up the “joie” at all, but found working not only in infectious diseases, but in global health, tropical and travel medicine, has enabled me to combine various strengths and passions.”

—Dr. Phyllis Kozarsky ’74 is a professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and an expert consultant to the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine with the Centers for Disease Control.


“While I didn’t realize it at the time, my life changed based upon two short conversations on a sunny August afternoon at Hobart. I came to the Colleges to play lacrosse; we won the National Championship both my first and sophomore years, and I was eager to increase my role in my junior season. I’d applied to study abroad in London but didn’t make the cut. However, a week before the group was scheduled to leave for Europe, I received a call informing me that someone had dropped out of the program, and I was asked to go. In the space of a few hours I called my dad and Coach Urick. I assumed that neither would be supportive; it was a large extra expense and I would miss fall training. However, neither of them hesitated, and both said the same thing: “Go!” Even though it was of no benefit to them personally, they both focused first on my growth. It was a great leadership lesson for me. The experience was wonderful. It started me on a path to study international affairs and launched a career living and working overseas.”

—John Sipher ’83, P’19, director of client services at CrossLead, Inc., recently retired after a 28-year career in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.


It was the summer of 1983 and I was a very green 18 year old attending the Colleges’ Pre-Freshman Academic Orientation Program (PSAO). On the program’s first day, PSAO peer counselor Andre Horn ’84 pulled me aside from the group of students for a walk and a talk. “What’s up?, Did I do something wrong my first days on campus? Was I short on financial aid? Why was he singling me out?” Andre asked a couple of “how’s it going” questions, and then he stopped walking and looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, “Ludwig, we believe in you. You are a leader. We expect greatness from you. Nothing less. Use this time to learn, lead and make a difference.” I remember trying to process what he shared. First thing I thought was that’s pretty heavy—a lot to put on a pre-freshman. But soon I reconciled those expectations. As I’ve faced my failures and successes in life, I’ve often thought of that simple conversation. Those kind words from a stranger at the time who would become a committed mentor. Words that reinforced earlier life lessons from my own family. The message for me from Andre was and is simple yet profound: place no ceilings on your ambitions. Never underestimate your worth. Aim big. Put in the work. Try. Fail. Adjust and try again. Succeed. Lift as you climb. Much is expected. It is a message I’ve sought to pay forward my entire life since leaving my “home” on Lake Seneca.

—The Hon. Ludwig P. Gaines ’88 is a principal, senior vice president and general counsel of The Euille Group LLC.


“A conversation that made a big difference to me was one that I had with my father around the time I went to college at HWS. I was struggling to make a decision regarding how to fast-track my education so I could graduate in 3 years. I was considering too many options and was frozen with indecision. I sought my father’s advice for success. He said, “Narrow your options down to two and choose either one! Get into action and course-correct once you are moving forward and engaged with real issues, rather than be paralyzed in analysis.” I applied my father’s wisdom in choosing a major with accelerated courses in Asian Studies and received my degree in three years. Upon graduation I was faced with a similar dilemma: law school or an MBA. I applied my father’s logic and chose to get an MBA from the University of Oregon. For the last 30 years, I have worked as an international management consultant and find myself extending my dad’s advice to client after client. My counsel with CEOs is that no one is smart enough to always make the right decision. It is more effective to be decisive and then make your choice right, even allowing for a change of course. “Action always trumps indecision.” My father’s words continue to be a source of guidance and inspiration for me. Hearing his advice is the greatest honor to my dad.”

—Lisa Miller Goldman ’74 is a partner at Management Associates in California and the author of The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business-as-Usual.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.