College hosts symposium for outgoing Professor Schwartz

Last Saturday the college held a ceremony honoring long-time psychology professor Barry Schwartz. The ceremony took place in Lang Concert Hall from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. During that time, faculty members who had worked with Schwartz had the opportunity to share their experiences and gratitude for him. The event was open to all students and faculty members and drew a large crowd, with attendees filing in and out through the course of the day.

President Valerie Smith opened with general remarks about Schwartz’s incredibly successful career, publishing over 200 articles and 10 books, being interviewed on Anderson Cooper and the Colbert Report, and sharing his research findings through numerous TED talks. Smith paved the way for the other speakers with an introduction to his impressive professional life.

University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Martin Seligman began his speech by talking about his experiences working with Schwartz and the findings they had shared. Seligman acknowledged all of Schwartz’s incredible achievements, but made note that Schwartz was instead successful because he had only had, “one job and one wife his whole life.”

Daniel Reisberg, a psychology professor at Reed College, took the stage next and talked about his work with Schwartz. Some of the following speakers included professor of psychology at Princeton University Daniel Kahneman, professor of psychology at Swarthmore Richard Schuldenfrei, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Adam Gant, and professor of political science at Swarthmore Kenneth Sharpe.

Toward the end of the event, several Swarthmore professors shared their experiences, including chair of the psychology department Andrew Ward. Ward started his talk with a few jokes about his humbling experience working alongside Schwartz, noting that students confused him for Schwartz’s assistant and commenting on Schwartz’s dress attire when teaching. He then described with his acronym of tips for happiness called the “BARRY.” Each letter refers to an aspect of life that Schwartz follows to be happy. The letters stand for Be grateful, Allow students to succeed, Reward others, Resist irrational behavior, Yield to the power of satisficing, and finally to have low expectations (which did not have its own letter).

Schwartz gave the final talk of the afternoon in which the Lang Concert Hall reached its capacity and started with a standing ovation. Schwartz began his speech thanking his colleagues and peers for their influence on his life. During his talk, he attributed the successes of his life and career not to what he created for himself, but instead to being able to see opportunities when they presented themselves through good fortune. He said, “I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate to take advantage of good luck when confronted with it.”

Schwartz mapped the experiences and path of his career studying at NYU, and then moving on to the University of Pennsylvania to receive his PhD in psychology. He was torn at a point in his life to study either law or psychology. He said, “I studied psychology in college largely by accident, I chose the grad school I went to for the wrong reasons but discovered it was the perfect place to be. I would have gone to law school and become a lawyer in Penn law school had they been willing to take me part time while I finished my PhD. The happy accidents just go on and on.”

Schwartz ended his talk sharing his ideas about the college admission process and how high schoolers could be happier and more stress free if it did not involve the pressure to outperform other students in an applicant pool.

Schwartz expressed his impression of the symposium as a whole and commented, “I was completely stunned. It just took my breath away. My colleagues who organized it were unbelievably generous with their time, and wanted it to be just perfect, the president and the provost were generous with funds to support it, my colleagues and collaborators all every one said yes when they were invited despite how busy they are and that four of them were coming from the west coast.”

Many of Schwartz’s former and current students attended the symposium, including McKenzie Himelein-Wachowiak ’19, who is currently taking his class, “Thinking, Judgment, and Decision Making.”

Himelein-Wachowiak said, “I think he’s a captivating lecturer, and always solidifies the material we’re learning with interesting studies, which helps me better learn the concepts. I also admire his almost-cynical humor.”

Rajnish Yadav ’18, who is in two classes with Schwartz this semester — “Thinking, Judgement, and Decision Making” and “Behavioral Science and Public Policy” — agreed. “Barry’s lectures are captivating. There has never been a dull moment in any of his two classes I am taking this semester. He has a great sense of humor and he uses it with great success during the lectures. There have been a lot of ‘wow’ moments for me in his classes which have helped deepen my understanding of judgment and decision making,” he noted.

Students attended the symposium for a variety of reasons. Martina Costagliola ’17 remarked, “I’ve always been interested in Barry’s research and work, so I really wanted to hear what his colleagues had to say about working with him. The lineup of speakers was also just impressive, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to hear all of them speak.”

Himelein-Wachowiack commented, “I was excited for the opportunity to hear so many prominent psychologists, like Seligman, Kahneman, and Lyubomirsky, and for the opportunity to honor Barry while also learning about the current research of the speakers.”

Schwartz wanted students to take away one central message. “Serious intellectual engagement can be thrilling, and more important, it can lead to understandings that can change the world,” he said, “we tend to be so caught up in day-to-day business of assignments and exams that we can lose sight of why it matters that we do this kind of work, and do it with integrity and passion.”


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