Dozens of Scarsdale High School alumni gathered May 11 to celebrate the school’s 100-year anniversary and to listen to a panel of distinguished SHS graduates whose careers ranged from Amazon executive to NASA space astronaut.
“If you’re here today it means Scarsdale has played an important role in your life,” said Scarsdale Alumni Association President Zachary Harrison to the crowd of alumni as the panel began.
The panel, which included Lindsay Gottlieb, head coach of the University of California’s women’s basketball team; Andrew Ross Sorkin, CBNC television personality and New York Times financial reporter; Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon web services and Jeffrey Hoffman, a space shuttle astronaut, focused on the alumni’s views on the keys to their success, their best memories growing up in Scarsdale, dealing with failure, their advice for current students, and how Scarsdale shaped them into the person they are today.
Although many of the panelists credited their success to luck, they believed Scarsdale set a good foundation for them to be successful.
Sorkin said there’s a balance between the benefits in the Scarsdale community, which “probably creates some sense of entitlement,” but also can be a negative element, but he said it helped him in some ways by creating “a sense of insecurity which made me want to prove myself.”
“I think the confluence of all those things came together for me to help me get where I am,” said Sorkin, who also authored a book on the Wall Street banking crisis.
Jassy, who joined Amazon in 1997 and graduated from Scarsdale in 1986, had a similar experience and said the challenges he faced in the rigorous coursework and competition among classmates helped shape his success later in life.
“One of the things I didn’t love so much while I was in Scarsdale, but have come to appreciate over time, is how competitive it was,” Jassy said. “It made me comfortable being in environments that were demanding and challenging and hard and not feel intimidated by it.”
The panel said Scarsdale teachers were huge influences for them, helping to build themselves as better people and acting as mentors in a developing time of their lives.
“Scarsdale had a unique ability to make you feel like you could be or do anything,” said Gottlieb, class of 1995. “Particularly as a young female, I think we were sort of ahead of the curve, allowing all of us to feel like we were capable of anything. Maybe that’s because of the great teachers … but I would say Scarsdale gave me a start by encouraging me to be really passionate and good at whatever it was I wanted to do.”
Hoffman, a five-flight space shuttle astronaut and 1962 Scarsdale High School graduate, commended his Fox Meadow third-grade teacher, who encouraged him to pursue his dreams of spaceflight.
“When she saw me doodling pictures of rocket ships on my arithmetic papers, instead of punishing me or calling me out for it, she recognized my interest and that was typical of [my] experience throughout the education at Scarsdale,” said Hoffman, who has logged more than 1,200 hours in space. “We were so lucky to have teachers who recognized our interests and helped us.”
Sports also played a key role in many of the distinguished graduates’ pasts, with Gottlieb and Sorkin referencing their time playing soccer and basketball together, and Jassy, whose fondest memory was the summer soccer practices he had to endure during his freshman/sophomore year.
“I would ride my bike from Fox Meadow to Heathcote School where the practices were and we’d run like crazy and expire ourselves for two and a half hours,” said Jassy. He and his friends would then go to Heathcote Deli and to a friend’s house to watch the U.S. Open. “I remember that fondly because … Scarsdale was a place that was safe enough that you could let your kids ride their bicycles all over town,” he said.
For the benefit of current students, the panelists reiterated that the path to success is not easy and failure is common. But, learning from failure will only help them to succeed in the future and make them stronger for the obstacles ahead. “Luck is only the first step, luck means you’re presented with an opportunity and then what you make of that opportunity is up to you,” said Hoffman.
“Perseverance matters so much more than talent,” added Sorkin. “Scarsdale in a way really actually messed my mind up on this because there were kids getting straight A’s but who didn’t have passion and I thought I’m never going to make it. I think the passion wins.”
Gottlieb believes that although she doesn’t directly use what she learned in high school or college every day on the basketball court, it has helped her learn in different ways.
“If you allow yourself to really learn how to think about things and not just what’s on the next test, I think the Scarsdale High School education will pay off one hundred fold,” Gottlieb said.