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For Alumni, a Weekend on the Farm

David Gonzales

Thursday night's Dinner on the Quad is a perennial favorite.

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All the fun of Stanford, with none of the pressures: That's the beauty of Reunion Homecoming, which drew more than 6,000 alumni and their nearly 3,000 guests back to the Farm in October for four days of campus tours, mind-stretching seminars, boisterous class parties, impromptu get-togethers, stellar football and more, in perfect autumn weather.

Longevity: Good News and Bad

The Classes of '46 and '51 held a joint panel featuring speakers from Stanford's Center on Longevity. The topic, Long Life in the 21st Century, was fitting: At least by outward appearances, many of the octogenarians in attendance confirmed the cliché that 80 is the new 60. Neurology professor Thomas Rando drew chuckles with his own demonstration that we're aging more slowly—he showed a slide of Charles Darwin at age 45 (in 1854) followed by one of Tina Turner at age 64 (in 2003). She looked almost young enough to be Darwin's daughter.

Moderator Laura Carstensen noted that in the past century, U.S. life expectancy rose faster than ever before—from 47 in 1900 to 77 in 2000—thanks to inoculation, refrigeration, sanitation and public education. Carstensen, a psychology professor who directs the Center on Longevity, predicted that most babies today would live into their 80s, 90s or even to 100. The center aims to foster an aging populace that is "mentally sharp, physically fit and financially secure."

Enter the economist, with sobering data. Victor Fuchs, emeritus professor of economics and of health research and policy, pointed out that although life expectancy has increased, the retirement age has fallen: Only 20 percent of people over 65 are in the workforce. For the rest, earnings need to be replaced and medical bills paid. Fuchs said that more than half of these expenses, particularly medical costs, are paid by transfers from people under 65.

The problem, as senior research scholar Adele Hayutin observed, is that population aging is "pervasive and gaining momentum," while fertility rates are seeing "huge drops." We need to "move population aging into the foreground" of our awareness, she stressed. "It affects [us] all, like climate change."

What to do? Fuchs spelled out three choices: Decrease the rate of growth of medical care; increase paid work done by those over 65; or increase people's pre-retirement savings rate. One alumna asserted that because younger generations are living healthier lives, future health care costs should go down. Fuchs countered that surgeries that today can't be performed because elderly patients aren't healthy enough would be done more frequently on a healthier population, potentially generating higher costs. Another question: If the elderly postponed retirement, wouldn't they be taking jobs away from the young? Fuchs said there was no long-term data to support that but agreed it could be true in the short term.

On a more upbeat note, Rando spoke about research that suggests the possibility of slowing or even reversing aging. The lifespan of mice whose calorie intake was cut by 65 percent doubled. By injecting young mice with a protein, researchers restored their damaged skeletal muscles in a few weeks. In an experiment where an aging mouse was surgically hooked up to a young one and shared its blood flow, the elder's tissues repaired well. The audience was clearly captivated.

In Their Own Words

RH Roundtable
David Gonzales

Veteran PBS interviewer Charlie Rose moderated the reunion roundtable, Education 2.0: Redefining K-12 Education Before It Redefines Us, hosted by President John Hennessy. Panelists were Cory Booker, '91, MA '92, mayor of Newark, N.J.; former California Board of Education head and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, MS '88; Salman Khan of the free, online Khan Academy; educational philanthropist/entrepreneur Kim Smith, MBA '98; and Claude Steele, dean of Stanford's School of Education. From different perspectives, all voiced the need for change and experimentation.


"The greatest national security threat to America is the dumbing down of our population. . . . The crisis is the lack of [public] outrage and engagement."—Cory Booker, who called for longer school hours and decision making based on data, not preconceptions.

"Thirty years from now, all schools will be nonprofits."—Reed Hastings. He champions charter schools and the individualized learning that technology enables.

"We have not made the teaching profession a profession. That's what we need to do—treat [teachers] as professionals, hold them accountable, expect them to have high standards, evaluate them, but we also need to pay them. . . . "—John Hennessy

Salman Khan envisioned a one-room school where, thanks to technology, students of different ages can work at their own pace year-round. "I'd like to experiment with an achievement-based system, where if you pass the exam, you don't have to sit in a classroom."

"We have to decide if we're willing to let go of the way it used to be and create a whole new way."—Kim Smith, who noted we are at a "giant inflection point" where "education entrepreneurs" such as charter schools, Teach for America and Khan Academy can point to new directions.

"It isn't a completely dark picture. . . . In a lot of K-12 schools we do a good job. . . . We want to transfer the skills and knowledge that we use so effectively in those schools to schools in lower income communities."—Claude Steele, who cited a "clear list in the literature" of the characteristics of lower-income schools that succeed.

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