A Meeting of the Minds: Einstein’s and Honor Collegians’

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 learning tools.

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 there.

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.


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