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  • Writer's pictureRyan Bailis

A Weekend in NYC and DC

Last weekend was filled with two exciting opportunities and experiences that I will never forget. In NYC on Friday, I performed in one of the city’s most beautiful venues and met with a few of Bucknell’s most prominent donors. And in DC on Saturday, along with 15 other students interested in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, I explored the city and met with Bucknell alumni working in the consulting, entrepreneurship, and engineering industries. Traveling to two different cities in two days was certainly exhausting, but I enjoyed the high-energy weekend filled with world-class hospitality, stimulating conversations, and life-long friendship.

Day I - Traveling to NYC

My travels started at about noon on Friday when I boarded the bus for NYC. I first learned about this trip back in January when Bucknell University Orchestra Director Christopher Para invited five other musicians and me to an event at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. The celebration, which occurs once every four or five years, is a dinner to recognize members of the William Bucknell Society (WBS) for their generous donations to Bucknell University. (Just for reference, in members of the WBS have donated over $1 million to the university.)

Upon arrival at the Boathouse, I started to realize just how special this event was. Even before full bloom, the landmark restaurant fit perfectly into the lakeside setting with gorgeous foliage around the grounds. Inside the venue, the tables were decorated to perfection with themed centerpieces and Bucknell inspired accents. It was a beautiful place to be.

The night started with the sextet (string quartet with flute and clarinet) and I performing for the distinguished guests as they arrived. We played everything from Handel's Firework Suite to The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby. As more and more people came, the room started to become very loud, making it increasingly difficult to play together. It got to a point where I could hardly hear the notes I was playing.

After playing for about an hour, it was time to find my table for dinner. As I sat down, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was Ken Freeman. He wanted to thank me for coming to the celebration and partaking in the pre-dinner entertainment. We exchanged a few words and then, as the server was beginning to take our orders, he took his seat two chairs to my right. He introduced me to his wife Janice (sitting directly to my right), and the three of us talked for a bit about what brought me to Bucknell and what keeps them coming back year after year.  

Sitting next to Ken and Janice Freeman and talking casually about memorable books is something I will never forget. It isn’t every day that you get to dine with someone who has a college named after them. I was genuinely shocked by how personable and relatable they were. I almost forgot that prestigious people are just people too. Sitting directly to my left was Dean Alexander and her husband, Glen. I’ve talked to Dean Alexander before, but this was an incredible opportunity to talk about the new Freeman College of Management. And Ken was right there! How cool.

Also at the table was Scott Perricelli, an alumnus of my fraternity. I’ve talked to Scott before, but I had no idea he was such a prominent figure in the Bucknell Community. As it turns out, Scott was one of the 18 people in attendance because of his recent induction to the WBS. It was an exciting moment for him to be recognized for his substantial contributions to higher-education at Bucknell.

The night continued with a compelling speech by Amanda Stefura, a member of the Class of 2019 and a proud Langone Scholar. During her heartfelt remarks, Amanda told her story of getting accepted to Bucknell but needing a way to find financial support. She then expressed her immense gratitude to the Langone family for making her dream a reality. What I found extraordinary about the generosity of Ken and Elaine Langone is that Amanda isn’t alone. The Langone Scholars program has supported nearly 200 students and their academic endeavors over the past 20 years. And to celebrate their remarkable generosity, Bucknell President John Bravman created a special award specifically to commemorate Ken and Elaine Langone.

It was really incredible witnessing such a special occasion. After having read Ken Langone’s book “I Love Capitalism,” I’ve found his story especially inspiring. Despite his humble beginnings, he’s been one of the biggest American success stories of the last 100 years. And he credits his time at Bucknell to much of this. During his acceptance speech, he talked about needing $300 for tuition during his last semester. And Bucknell helped him find the money to graduate on time. And for that, he’ll forever feel indebted. With dinner coming to an end, it was time for the other musicians and me to get back to work for the dessert reception. But I couldn't leave without meeting Ken Langone. I mustered the courage to walk over and shake his hand. We exchanged a few words, and with that, I was content.

Playing the same music for the second time that night proved to be much easier. It was much quieter now, and I could better focus on playing my part. The praise and recognition the group received was rather humbling. One guest walked into the banquet hall and said to his wife “it’s nice being in NYC where they have professional musicians.” He soon walked across the room and found a group of Bucknell students. How amazing!

After a long and eventful day, we made sure to visit the dessert bar and try (at least) one of everything. We ate as much as we could, asked a server for a few take-home boxes, and filled those as well. We wanted to savor the delicious treats as long as possible. And with that, we boarded the bus and started the three-hour journey back to campus. We arrived at about 2:30AM, and I quickly headed to bed trying to get as much sleep as possible before the next adventure.

Day II - Traveling to DC

I woke up at 5AM to prepare a few things before boarding the bus. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation (E&I) Affinity House was traveling to DC to network with alumni and learn about the consulting, entrepreneurship, and engineering industries. As one of the leaders of the house, it was my goal to make the trip run as smoothly as possible and ensure no one was left behind in DC.

Our first site visit was to FMP Consulting, a firm based out of Arlington, Virginia that advises governmental organizations on human capital efficiency and organizational planning. While we were in their office, we learned about the company's history and transition from a small consortium of people working on consulting projects to a mid-sized organization focused on grant and non-technical projects. We were then given a tour of their beautiful office, which has numerous collaborative workspaces and a kitchen for social gatherings. The most sensible aspect of their office was the executive offices on the interior of the building. They did this to let sunlight shine in on cubicle spaces and create a culture where managers are encouraged to empower their team. What a brilliant tactic to create the sense of a flat organization.

While at FMP, we also met with Tom Klaff, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of a half dozen companies. Tom’s current project, the Zoaster, is a premium toaster that can brown bread nearly 3 times faster than a conventional toaster. Impressively, the product places emphasis on the customer experience and sports an appealing touchscreen interface, automatic toast levers, and a superior industrial design. While they are currently focused on building a consumer product, they are also working on expanding their business model and building industrial dryers that utilize their core heating element technology.

Talking to Tom was undoubtedly a highlight of the weekend. He has a wealth of experience in determining a customer need, developing a solution, and marketing a product to potential customers. In conversation, Tom stressed the importance of market timing. He told the story about how, back in the 1990s, he developed a web platform that would allow medical professionals to share patient X-Rays electronically. But since the allowable bandwidth of the early internet was somewhat limited, their product was slow and clunky. Today, most (if not all) X-Rays are sent electronically, proving to be a multi-million dollar industry. Fabulous idea, bad timing.

Our third and final visit was at the L'Enfant Plaza Food Court where we met with Chris Lay ‘02. I had the opportunity to talk to Chris a few times before our visit, and it was nice to meet him in person. Chris and I had a surprising amount in common. While at Bucknell, he was a member of the Bucknell Orchestra (even playing the cello) and a member of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. What a small world! During his talk, Chris spoke about his time at Bucknell and his path after graduation. At the end, he gave E&I members the chance to ask questions about ways to structure their goals and develop meaningful future aspirations.

With all of our formal obligations in the morning, we had the rest of the day to explore the city and spend time with friends. For me, I spend most of this time in the Library of Congress, walking (and eventually taking a nap) in the national mall, and visiting the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. It was an incredibly beautiful day with clear blue skies and a gentle warm breeze. We could not have picked a better day.

After a successful day and trip, we boarded the bus back to campus, arriving at 1AM. I was immensely exhausted, but couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Traveling to two different cities in two days isn’t something I would opt to do every week, but it was certainly a weekend to remember.

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