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Two-Bluebird Nights

C. Russell de Burlo Jr. '47

June 1942 was an uncertain time for our country-and for the students entering college. We were at war with the Axis countries: Japan, Germany, and Italy.

The students of 1942 were children of the Depression, many from modest-income families like mine. No one in my immediate family had gone to college, but I was expected to go because of my strong academic record in high school and because a college degree was viewed as necessary to ensure a financially secure future.

I had two close friends-Charles Newitt '44, a sophomore at Swarthmore; and John Cookenbach '31, an alumnus-who encouraged me to go to Swarthmore for its academic program and also because they believed that I would be able to play varsity sports, which were a vital part of my life. My decision turned on the latter. This opportunity would not have been available to me at Penn, where I had been offered a full-tuition scholarship.

They were correct: I did play varsity soccer and baseball from freshman year through senior year. And what fun I had! Swarthmore's schedule for those sports was equivalent to Division I; our opponents included Penn, Princeton, Cornell, Army, and Navy. Being part of those teams opened the door for me to become friends with teammates-and their friends, male and female-who were upperclassmen or in different majors.

When I entered Swarthmore, the College had a 12-month program: year-round classes with only two weeks off. We took five courses (with three laboratories) per semester, with classes on Saturday and labs on Thanksgiving Day. How can I best describe the intensity of that experience? Well, every night on the radio, at midnight and 1 a.m., they played a recording of Jan Pearce singing "The Bluebird of Happiness," and we had many "two-Bluebird nights." Discipline of mind, body, and planning was essential to weather every Swarthmore day.

The lessons I learned far exceeded my limited expectations. They shaped my values, my career, and my personal life. They helped me succeed in the years that followed, starting with graduate studies at Penn and at Harvard Business School. Subsequently, I was a vice president and professor at Tufts University for many years, and I served on various National Cancer Institute committees and on advisory committees of several cancer centers.

My days still are full, since two of my colleagues in the Treasurer's Office at Tufts and I started an investment-management firm with a social conscience. We are very actively involved with a number of nonprofit institutions and several Friends organizations.

For me, the most important Swarthmore lessons were fourfold. The first was the value of disciplined thought. Second, I found that hard work can be enjoyable because of the joy of learning. Those two were embedded in my values system, but the third really made a difference in my life: faculty members who were extremely generous, not only with their time but also with their willingness to take on the responsibility of helping their students develop as individuals who would become contributing members of society. Several of these were members of the Swarthmore Monthly Meeting of Friends; one, in particular, was a great help when I was drafted into the Navy just before the end of my junior year. Samuel Carpenter wrote to me and made arrangements for me to take my junior comprehensive exams after I completed boot camp in June 1944. We continued to correspond when I was in the South Pacific, and he welcomed me back after my discharge in June 1946.

The fourth lesson was the social activism that was intrinsic to Swarthmore. The values system of the Friends was apparent, and my first introduction was the week I entered college in 1942. I attended a campus meeting in the Friends Meetinghouse, and the simplicity and quiet of the space had a lasting impact on my emotional being.

The experience with Friends that most profoundly changed my life occurred after returning for my senior year in September 1946. I started work in the College post office, where I met a co-worker, a lovely girl who, I learned during our first date, was a member of the Swarthmore Friends Meeting. She introduced me to her family and their friends. Her father, Charles Thatcher, was a Swarthmore professor and the chief financial officer of the College. Many of their friends were alumni and Friends. As I learned more about their life on campus, my direction became clear: I would become an academic and a college administrator. What a blessing it has been for me all these years!

The most significant Swarthmore blessing has been that co-worker in the College post office. Edith Thatcher '50 and I married in the Swarthmore Meetinghouse in May 1948, and she has been my inner light ever since.

Russell de Burlo is an educator (former treasurer of and professor at Tufts University) and investment adviser (president of The de Burlo Group).