In Praise of Schmoozing

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By Steven Ludsin ’70

Cornell is one of the streams that flows through my life. As I walked around the campus at my pandemic-delayed 50th Reunion in June 2022, it occurred to me that the University provided me with the freedom to interact and learn through listening to others—essentially, schmoozing.

Indeed, at Reunion, a classmate who’d lived next door in the freshman dorm commented that I’d never had any inhibitions about talking to strangers. I didn’t realize that the approach was so obvious—but it reminded me that my trajectory of the schmoozing technique began at Cornell.

Steve Ludsin

I find that schmoozing with people helps me discover that we may have something in common that can create a connection. (Kurt Vonnegut ’44 called it the “granfalloon.”) I was never bashful, but age has made me even less self-conscious about starting conversations.

I started building a network in the days before the term “networking” was commonly used; essentially, I created interconnectivity to increase my chances for lucky interactions. In retrospect, I see that since I considered myself an outsider, my goal was to be accepted.

Thanks to Cornell, the creative side of my brain flourished. The University encouraged me to speak, write, create, organize, and advocate, and not to fear rejection; after all, the worst that can happen is someone says no.

A group of men around a dinner table in the Sixties
Ludsin (third from right) with fraternity brothers at a hotel in Miami, where they saw the Supremes perform during 1967 winter break. The singing group’s road manager is third from left.

Cornell opened my eyes to a wide variety of people and ideas, and the social skills I developed there took me to places I wanted to go.

I liked the approval of others—who doesn’t?—so I became freshman class president in the ILR School. I was social chairman of my fraternity, Tau Delta Phi, and by junior year I was social chairman of the entire Interfraternity Council. Being a ringleader was a valuable part of my education.

After law school, I realized I didn’t actually want to practice law; through the benefit of hindsight, though, I see that being a lawyer is an avenue for pursuing a variety of careers and interests, and that has been very liberating.

I started building a network in the days before the term ‘networking’ was commonly used.

My legal background also helped broaden my mind—since lawyers are supposed to be capable of arguing either side of an argument.

The unpredictable sometimes appears as fate or destiny; as my father always said, “you can be one-in-a-million lucky, or one-in-a-million unlucky.”

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He left Latvia in June 1939 to see the World’s Fair in New York; the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 so he stayed in America. While 70–90% of the Latvian Jews were ultimately killed by the Nazis, my mother survived the Riga ghetto with two of her brothers.

I like to say that makes me a Latvian unicorn, since my very existence is highly improbable. And indeed, luck and serendipity have played a major role in my life and success.

Steve Ludsin and friends at an antiwar protest in 1970
At an antiwar protest in 1970, Ludsin is second from right.

These improbable events are frequently a source of puzzlement. How did they happen, and how many stars had to align? I am always fascinated with chance encounters and the surprises that come from them.

A classic example was when I was in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, preparing for a trip to Hong Kong, and spotted a familiar face. It turned out to be Richard Ramin ’51, then Cornell’s vice president for public affairs.

He was traveling with Frank Rhodes, then Cornell’s president; Alfred Kahn, my freshman-year economics professor; and history professor Walter LaFeber. We wound up being two rows apart on the plane to Hong Kong, and I went on to attend two University-sponsored receptions there.

Steve Ludsin on the Cornell Dairy trike at Reunion
Outside Stocking Hall at Reunion ’22.

My schmoozing and curiosity ended up with a great weekend in Hong Kong. What were the chances of that encounter in Tokyo?

I like to say that life is an “overnight business.” We don’t know what it will bring—so look for opportunities before they evaporate. I tend to plunge into situations and use my instincts to navigate a solution.

My years at Cornell provided the foundation for that approach, and I am eternally grateful.

After graduating from Fordham’s law school, Steven Ludsin ’70 worked at Salomon Brothers before founding an investment advisory firm specializing in the bond market; he also pioneered the online marketing of government real estate. The founder of a Holocaust remembrance foundation, he served on the President’s Commission on the Holocaust and the first U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. He was the Class of ’70 fund representative for 20 years.

(All images provided.)

Published April 11, 2023


Comments

  1. Peter eliel

    Does the atmosphere at Cornell which you experienced still exist?
    I really enjoyed the article you wrote but why omit from your accomplishments your title as east Hampton beach mayor?

  2. Ilene Wasserman, Class of 1977

    Steve, I share your philosophy and believe it is rooted in the many overlapping affiliations we have: Cornell being a dominant one. Thank you for this! You do have a way with words.

  3. Margaret, Class of 1982

    Steve, I know you know the exact date when we met and where. Thoughts of you. I’m glad you popped up today! Pura Vida

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