In a rite of Spring at CMC, the Marian Minor Cook Athenaeum has named two new Athenaeum Woolley Fellows for 2016-17: Sarah Sanbar ’17 and Michael Grouskay ’17.
“While I will miss outgoing Ath Fellows Henrietta and Xuan who did an exceptional job this year, I am very excited to have Sarah and Michael as the incoming Ath Fellows,” says Athenaeum Director Priya Junnar. “Selected from an extremely deep and competitive finalist pool, Sarah and Michael embody service leadership, intellectual depth, and creative breadth along with the requisite diplomatic skills needed for this position. I am confident that together they will lead another wonderful and productive year at the Athenaeum.”
Here then is a brief Q&A with the incoming Fellows who provide a sneak peek into what might be in store for Athenaeum attendees throughout the upcoming school year.
CMC: Where did you grow up?
Michael: I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona (one of Phoenix’s larger suburbs). Scottsdale is famous for golf, retirees, great winter weather, and not a whole lot more. It’s basically Palm Springs with lower taxes. Summer temperatures regularly exceeded 110 degrees, and every other year we get massive dust storms that look terrifying, but usually are pretty harmless. I’m a big fan of the higher elevations in the northern part of the state. Even though the Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, Sedona is my personal favorite.
Sarah: I was born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a Palestinian father and American mother. When most people think of Saudi Arabia they think oil (it is more expensive to fill your tank with water than oil there), camels (Saudi Arabia imports camels from Australia because most Saudi camels are used for racing, not food), and women not driving (it isn’t actually illegal for them to drive, it’s illegal for them to get a driver's license). When I am asked what it was like living there, those are the things people typically have in mind. While they were a part of my childhood, my community in Riyadh was incredibly warm, diverse, welcoming, and driven. My classmates came from all over the world and had different perspectives, and as a result people were incredibly tolerant - a word people don’t generally associate with the conservative Kingdom, and a quality I have tried to carry with me throughout my life.
CMC: What’s your major?
Michael: I’m proudly following in the footsteps of the International Relations majors who have been Ath Fellows before me. My specific interests include security studies, the Middle East, and space policy. The International Relations major is one of the things that originally drew me to CMC. My senior year of high school, I had a chance to hear Professor Ed Haley, the former head of the IR department, speak at one of the Inside CMC days, and I was immediately sold. Prior to coming to Claremont, I didn’t have a whole lot of exposure to the world outside of the US, and getting to engage with CMC’s fantastic IR community has been one of my favorite things about being a student here.
Sarah: International Relations and Legal Studies.
CMC: Who would be your dream speaker to book and why?
Michael: Ai Weiwei, one of the speakers I proposed in my application, and an all around awesome human being. He’s a renowned contemporary artist and a vocal critic of censorship and human rights abuses. Apparently he’s also a world champion blackjack player. I spent this last spring break pretending to be Ai Weiwei in simulated negotiations with Chinese Communist Party officials at the World Model United Nations conference in Rome.
Sarah: Haifaa Al Mansour. She’s the first female Saudi film director, and wrote and directed the first full length movie to be entirely filmed inside Saudi Arabia. I think she has done some really important work in giving a voice to Saudi women and breaking down some of the misconceptions and stereotypes that people in the West have about Saudi Arabia in a really raw and honest way. Her seemingly benign films have been incredibly controversial and sparked discussion in the Kingdom on where it wants to go. To listen to her talk about some of the ways she has been both praised and vilified and why, would be fascinating to me.
CMC: What does the Ath mean to you, personally?
Michael: The Ath is such an exceptional institution; it might even be one-of-a-kind. I love attending talks on international relations -Stephen Walt last year was absolutely incredible- but I also really value the diversity that the Athenaeum brings to campus. I think it’s great that the Athenaeum places such a high priority on students. Sitting at the head table with six classmates and a speaker, you realize how unique and special an experience it is.
Sarah: I’ve been an Ath junkie since freshman year. It is a place for me to supplement what I learn in class and see how people in the real world take topics that I’m interested in and apply them to their lives and careers. I’ve also loved using it as a place to meet new students, professors, and community members.
CMC: What has been your favorite experience so far at the Ath?
Michael: Colin Adams’ talk in January really stands out. He’s an MIT mathematics professor who specializes in knot theory and dad jokes, and he’s one of the funniest speakers that I’ve encountered at the Ath. Another memorable experience was Ravi Aysola’s Ath talk. Mr. Aysola graduated from CMC in 1996 and spoke about empathy in the context of his personal experience here.
Sarah: One of my favourite talks was the first Ath talk I signed up for. It was given by Lizz Winstead, co creator and head writer of “The Daily Show.” I remember being shocked by her -- she was loud, intelligent, funny, and insightful. She made jokes that would have made me blush had I said them in front of my peers, let alone at the Ath. It was an educational experience entirely uncensored and new to me.
CMC: What does becoming an Ath Fellow mean to you?
Michael: I’ve wanted to be an Ath Fellow since my freshman year at CMC. It’s such a cool opportunity to be able to meet with all of interesting people that the Ath brings to campus, and I can’t believe that I’m going to be able to do it as my job. Practically speaking, an Ath Fellow has a role in introducing the speaker, and being present at the head table, but on top of that I’m really looking forward to playing a role in the booking process.
Sarah: As a member of the student body, I am really excited to be able to serve as a bridge between the Ath and my classmates. I hope to use my position to hear how the Ath can better serve what we as students feel we need, whether it’s things that should be changed, or speakers they want to bring here. Lastly, I’m really excited to be working with Michael, as I’m sure he will make his introductions funny and the head table alive.
CMC: What kind of bookings do you plan to go after outside your dream booking?
Michael: I think one of the things that has made the Ath so valuable in the past is the fact that it draws such a diverse and interesting group of speakers. I’m definitely interested in reaching out to international relations scholars, but I’m also hoping that we can see representation from the humanities and STEM fields. Someone who is hopefully not too much of a long shot is Randall Munroe, the creator of the webcomic xkcd. He’s a former NASA roboticist who has written several books including The New York Times bestseller, What If?
Sarah: Part of why the Ath is so valuable to me is because it provides students with the opportunity to hear from people they have never met or heard of. I think the best way to leverage that is by making the Ath a podium for the most diverse range of voices possible in terms of age, race, gender, subject expertise, and point of view. Some of my dream speakers include epigeneticist Dr. Moshe Szyf, the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Palestinian politician and activist Hanan Ashrawi, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, and creator of World of Warcraft Michael Morhaime.
CMC: What do you think of that perennial presence at the Ath, Manager Dave Edwards?
Michael: Fantastic. Just don’t try to cut in line for dinner ahead of the speaker!
Sarah: I live in a constant state of awe of him, and hands down he has the coolest ties of anyone I know. Just a tip though -- don't ever try and break the dress code of the Ath because he will see you and know. And it will be terrifying for you.
CMC: Is there any earthly way the food at the Ath can be improved upon?
Michael: Probably not legally.
Sarah: Not that I know of. Chef Dave has already found his way to my heart through my stomach.