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Q&A with John Faranda

March 1, 2008

by Bri Riggio

Most CMCers don’t know how the Athenaeum program started, or that CMCers used to hire typists for their senior theses, but one alumnus-in-residence remembers.

It was a leisurely, rainy and blustery Friday afternoon when I stepped inside CMC’s Claremont Boulevard building. After insisting that I help myself to some flower-shaped pieces of fruit, John Faranda, perhaps one of the most known CMC personalities, ushered me into his office. It was then, in between some idle chatter, some laughs, and some sharing of pictures, that I was able to interview the “Vice President of Alumni Relations.”

First, where you were born? Where did you grow up?

Well, I’m an Orange County person; I was born in Anaheim. I also lived in Illinois outside of Chicago for a while growing up. When I was at CMC my family moved to Saudi Arabia, so for a couple of years I was sort of an international student. Then I went to Washington DC on the CMC’s Washington Program, but I’m relatively a local to Southern California.

What was your favorite subject in school?

In school? That seems like a long time ago… I don’t know. I mean, I had a lot of fun in high school. French, German, and Speech were probably some of my favorite classes.

What did you do for fun? Outside activities? Hobbies? Extracurriculars?

Well, I was involved in student government. I was student body president in high school and junior class president and did a bunch of things with the school board. I did a lot of that kind of thing, and what I do now at CMC is sort of like being the student body president again and working with the school board. But now, instead of having a dance or a bake sale to raise a couple thousand dollars, we’re trying to have dances and bake sales that raise millions of dollars!

What made you choose to attend CMC?

I didn’t want to go especially far from home, which is ironic since my parents had by then moved to Saudi Arabia. My father had gone to Occidental College and it was probably my first choice at the time. It is a nice liberal arts college, but one of my father’s friends convinced me that Oxy’s time was past and that there was this up and coming men’s college I should look at in Claremont. When I came out here to visit, it just felt like a really good place for me. I was interested in government and economics and relatively conservative, so CMC fit better than Occidental.

What other activities were you involved with on campus at CMC?

I found CMC challenging and I spent a lot of time studying, but I was involved in College Republicans – I was President – and some other things on campus.

The old Athenaeum, which is now the Admissions Office, started as a place where professors could schedule classes. I think I was a first semester sophomore when my first class met there, and I was like “Oh this is cool!” I had never been there before, so I went and talked to the director and said, “You know this is really cool place, but if a professor doesn’t schedule something, you don’t get to come here. You should have some dinners that are just open for anyone at the school who wants to come.”

The Athenaeum Director said that dinners sounded like a good idea and that I should organize it. I was like, “Wait, no! I just wanted some free dinners!” But some students and I got involved in what we called the Meeting of the Minds Society, and we would schedule maybe one dinner a week. We pretty much went around to students at the other colleges and asked them who their favorite professors were, their Jack Pitneys, and we would have them come and talk for free because there was no budget for any of this. That first meeting morphed into the whole Athenaeum program. So that kept me busy. We also had what was called The James Madison Society, which was a political philosophy group and we organized a big conference once. I worked on that before, you know, there were Xerox machines, where you had to do all the printing by hand. Yeah, it was fun.

Were there any particularly good Athenaeum dinners that you recall?

From my era? I guess I would say the first President Bush was probably one of the most memorable speakers because I sat with him before we went into dinner and he, let’s see, had just finished being the CIA director, so it was before he ran for the presidency, but he wore these little reading glasses, and when he would talk to you, he would look over his notes and take his glasses off, and you felt when he took these glasses off as if he was opening up his soul to you. Milton Friedman was there, too. That was a very good talk, but the first George Bush was a pretty special meeting.

Were you ever “ponded” when you were here?

No I don’t think I was because at that time the ponding took place at Scripps and I think any of my friends were energetic enough to carry me there.

So how did you end up back at CMC then?

After graduation, I worked for two ethics committees, but I was involved with the alumni association and doing a bunch of things. I was at the Athenaeum one night and I remember Jill Stark was there saying, “Oh John you’re here so much we really should put you on the payroll.”

To this day I don’t think I was ever really offered a job. I just got a letter from Jack Stark saying “Dear John, we want you to start on February 15th, and your salary will be X… please be here.” And I thought, “Well, they want me!” So I quit my other job and came to Claremont. That was twenty-three years and a week ago.

How long does it take you to learn the names and the people in each incoming class?

It’s hard. I mean, I have two things going against me: one is that I’m getting older and my brain is turning into Jell-O, and the other is that there are just so many more CMCers. Now there are 10,000 alumni and you just can’t keep 10,000 people in your head. But I do think that your generation has an advantage with Facebook, which does let you connect names with faces. I do not know everyone and I do not remember everyone’s names, but I try, and if I fail, please forgive me. Send me a message on Facebook or even better, come up and shake my hand and say hello. And I appreciate that CMCers are so good about that – a firm handshake and a, “Hello my name is X” can take you far in life.

Out of all the CMC events, do you have a favorite?

Yes, my favorite is Orientation. I love getting to meet all the freshmen. I really enjoy getting to say hello to everyone and welcome them, and then as you can imagine, the corollary is that I hate graduation. For even the most organized classes, only 50% will come back for their reunion, so I know that at least half of the class I’ll never see again. I know a lot of people in the class will stay connected, take trips together… but for me, a lot of the time I don’t see them again. Oh, and I do love Reunion Weekend, too! Welcoming everyone back and such.

We sometimes see you around Snack.

So one of the things that happens with Snack… I used to go more often when my office was in Bauer because I would just walk home. Now it’s sort of a long walk… sometimes I’ll stop by when I’m driving home in my car, and since faculty and staff aren’t on a meal plan and we don’t get Snack, to sort of be ethical about it, I never eat or drink anything at Snack. I think I’d have to pay $2.50 or something. Also, for most adults, the kinds of things that are at Snack just aren’t on our diets. I don’t need a donut or churros. So I guess my favorite item at Snack is conversation!

How do you think students have changed since you’ve been a student here?

Well, the co-ed thing was big, but it wasn’t as big as it was for other schools because we had Scripps across the way. I think that the two things that attract CMCers are pretty constant: law, government kind of things and finance, economics. We still see a pretty high proportions of students getting law and masters degrees. Then there are always five or ten physicians and teachers, but many people are interested in the investment banking thing. I do think that CMC students now are better prepared and more directed than we were – they clearly have a huge advantage in having technology on their side. You can finish a paper at 10:50 and hand it in 11:00. When we finished a paper at 10:50, we then had to type it up, which would take hours of typing on a typewriter. Most people actually hired typists to type their senior theses.

Where do you see the future of CMC going?

Well, we definitely have a lot of strategic things on the horizon for the college. There are a lot of good things happening here and now. CMC just continues to get better in moving forward – it’s attractive for students, and it’s attractive for alumni.

No… umm… no. I don’t want to be working here when I’m 76, but I hope that I will… I don’t know. I hope that I’ll still have a relationship with the college and the students. Do you know Goodbye Mr. Chips? It’s a novel about a beloved professor at Oxford who, you know, goes through his life making a difference in people’s lives but it’s told from the point of his retirement. All of the freshman come and have tea with him, one by one, and he talks with them about their lives and what they hope to do, so maybe I’ll have a “Mr. Chips” role at some point in the future. But at 76 I don’t want to be here trying to keep up with you. You’re too energetic.

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