By Rita Rodin
The students eagerly discussed how many of the 89 places on their Cultural
Passports they had been to—an indication of their many interests—as
they waited for others to join them at the American Museum of Natural
History. They were four of the 500 talented, intellectually curious
CUNY Honors College freshmen and sophomores whose special $10 entrance
fee to the museum’s blockbuster exhibition on the great physicist
Albert Einstein was paid for by leading real estate executive Jack Rudin,
a CCNY alumnus and long-time CUNY supporter, who has also given $1 million
to the Honors College.
| Honors Collegians in the presence
of genius, from left, Adina Leon, Melissa Mackie, Richard Chang,
and Anant Manie. Photo, Alan Klein.
Joining the students was the University’s Director of Arts and
Cultural Partnerships for the University, Dr. Sharon Dunn, who created
the Cultural Passport for the Honors College. In addition to free tuition,
a laptop computer and an academic stipend, the Cultural Passport permits
free entrance to museums, concerts, and other enriching metropolitan
cultural experiences. It is one of the College’s major perks and
Adina Leon, a sophomore based at Queens College, has been to most of
the museums. A studio art major with a humanities minor, she was interning
in the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s press office just for the experience—no
credit, no money, she admitted to the amazement of the others gathered
Another collegian based at Queens, freshman Anant Manie, said exuberantly,
“I love the Cultural Passport. I live in Queens, and I had never
been to the Brooklyn Museum before. I love the Hall of Science, too.
The passport opened up New York to me.” A biochemistry major interested
in philosophy, Manie quoted Einstein—it is a passage he has pinned
up in his study at home for inspiration—“Knowledge is limited,
imagination encircles the world.” The Cultural Passport, he might
have added, helps students encircle the city.
Melissa Mackie, a Baruch College sophomore from Trinidad, is a psychology
major with a minor in political science. She had been to the International
Center for Photography and the Metropolitan Museum. Mackie came to New
York specifically to go to school and plans to return to Trinidad as
a psychotherapist or teacher. But, she said, “I think New York
is good for me. I am always moving. It’s my tempo.”
Joined at last by a breathless Richard Chang, a Brooklyn College sophomore
in the BA/MD program (though he is mulling a change to sociology, his
father’s discipline), they made their way to the Einstein exhibition.
The life and theories of the most famous scientist of the 20th century,
whose name has long been synonymous with genius, are examined in the
exhibition. In addition to creative explanations of his theory of relativity
and his insights into the nature of space, time, light and energy, Albert
Einstein the man absorbed the students. Original letters, manuscripts
and photographs in the exhibit revealed his intense, wide-ranging interests
and concerns, notably
his love of music, his love affairs, and his failed first marriage,
as well as his advocacy for world peace, Israeli nationhood, human rights,
and nuclear disarmament—a cause he embraced after having urged
President Roosevelt to build the atom bomb before the Nazis did.
The students’ invitation to view “Einstein” came at
the end of finals week in June, and other Honors Collegians paid their
visits before it closed at the end of July.
Adina Leon, who studied math, physics and chemistry in addition to graphic
arts and sculpting last semester at Queens College, is considering going
to medical school. The exhibit strengthened her belief that she doesn’t
have to make a choice between her love of the arts and of the sciences.
“Einstein loved music, playing the violin, as well as science,”
she noted. “Leonardo da Vinci, too, was excellent at everything
he did—art, science, all of it.”
As Melissa Mackie examined rare original pages in Einstein’s neat
handwriting, she admitted, “I can’t read German and I am
not so into science, but I am really interested in the man, how he thinks.”
Pulled out of his reverie as he read about Einstein’s scientific
theories, Richard Chang said, “It is interesting how Einstein
knew all that about math. I’m pretty good in math, but not like
this. He was passionate about it.” Science may just have acquired
an edge over sociology in Chang’s future.