Meet New Ath Fellows Clare Riva ’13 and Jake Petzold ’12

Clare Riva ’13 and Jake Petzold ’12 have certainly got what it takes to thrive as Ath Fellows. They’re intellectually curious, well-read and spoken and each possesses a modicum of charisma that just might give them the necessary edge in snagging their dream Ath guest speakers.

Riva is drawn to questions of ethics and applied ethics. “I also like philosophy that deals with the real big questions of life like justice, morality, love, etc.,” she says. “I’m intensely interested in anything that touches on those questions.”

For his part, Petzold admits he’s been on the political career track since the ripe age of 12 or 13. “I can talk about political history or rhetoric for hours on end,” he says. “I also love exploring religious ideas and traditions both my own and others’. Toss in music, food (especially Mexican), Los Angeles, and baseball, and I think you’ve got a pretty good sense of what drives me.”

Riva’s a Philosophy and Public Affairs major, which, in her estimation, is basically a combination of Philosophy and Government. But she says that could change to straight Philosophy by next year. After graduation, Riva hopes to attend Georgetown Law School.

Petzold’s major? Government (as if you had to ask).

“I plan to spend my first year or so out of school working in political communications and speechwriting probably including work on the 2013 mayoral election in Los Angeles,” he says. “After that, I think I’m going to go to rabbinical school.”

Recently, we fired a round of questions at the new Ath Fellows, and here’s what they said.

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Who would you like to book as your dream guest speaker at the Ath?

Riva: I would really like to see Senator Tom Daschle at the Ath. He was one of the most prominent political figures in recent memory as both minority and majority leader in the Senate, and now he is a well-respected policy expert. I think he is a figure that would generate really interesting and thoughtful discourse at CMC, without being too polarizing.

Petzold: I have a lot, but number one is Jim Wallis, the leader of Sojourners, a progressive
Christian community and magazine, and an icon of the religious left. And like Clare, I’d also really love to see Tom Daschle, the former Senate Majority Leader.

Realistically speaking, whom would you like to get to come to the Ath who you think you can get?

Riva: Jake and I actually started talking one day about bringing Senator Daschle to the Ath and discovered that we both really want to. I think we might just be determined enough to have a shot at getting him here! More generally, I would also like to see some more speakers next year in the field of art. I think the Ath has this really cool interaction with the art community, for instance through the different painting exhibitions, that students take for granted or don’t even know about. So I would like to see that highlighted more. As a personal point of interest, I would also love to see someone come speak about the philosophy of physics, which would also reach two academic interests that are somewhat underrepresented at the Ath.

Petzold: Fortunately, I think we can get Reverend Wallis and Senator Daschle. I suppose my somewhat less realistic “dream guest” would be Vin Scully, the legendary Dodgers broadcaster.

What does the Ath mean to you personally?

Riva: The Ath is the most amazing thing at CMC. We are so lucky to have this resource that exposes us to today’s influential thinkers and dialogue that covers the spectrum of political, social, economic, literary, and intellectual perspectives. The sense of community that forms at the Ath is also incredible. I think the intimacy of the whole set-up surprises a lot of visitors to CMC, but it makes dinners and talks so much more personal than they would be in large lecture halls or sterile ballrooms. And since working at the Ath as a server for the past year, I learned that this sense of community extends to the people that keep the Ath running every day. Bonnie and Dave and the Chefs and kitchen workers are so great and welcoming, as are the students that work each night. The Ath and everyone in it have become kind of like a family to me, and I am honored to be able to contribute to the Ath next year as a Fellow.

Petzold: It’s my favorite part of the CMC experience after the people. I love the Athenaeum because at its core, it is a place for stories. Each night, the Ath hosts a storyteller; sometimes they tell their own stories, sometimes they tell other people’s stories. But together they all tell the story of who we are as students and professors, or as economists and historians, perhaps as Americans, or just as people. The speakers and performers tell stories, but so do the students, faculty, and guests as they mingle and dine and engage. From all these narratives emerges a single story of a dynamic institution and the people who make it.

What led you to enroll at CMC?

Riva: This may sound clich?, but I drove onto campus with my mom and before I even got out of the car I just knew that CMC was the right place for me. It also didn’t hurt that CMC is academically very strong in my areas of interest, or that about twenty people that I didn’t know smiled and said hi to me when I was touring campus. It is just such a draw to be in an environment where everyone is so passionate about what they do, no matter what that may be. Every day I am awed at the dedication and potential that every one of my peers shows.

Petzold: I’m from Los Angeles, and as I started my college selection process, I didn’t think in a million years I would go to school so close to home. But I fell in love with what CMC is all about and I valued the institution above its location. I believe strongly in the importance of civil intellectual discourse and in the value of the broadest possible education. I chose to attend CMC because I wanted my ideas challenged and my worldview expanded. And that happens here all the time in the classroom, among friends, and especially at the Athenaeum, which to me is the center of extracurricular intellectual activity at the Claremont Colleges.

What was the process like in applying to be an Ath Fellow?

Riva: The Ath Fellow application is a two-part process. First, you submit a written application with an essay about why you want the job, a list of speakers you would be interested in bringing to the Ath, a Fortnightly entry for one of them, and a few questions for speakers that have already come to the Ath. The Ath advisory committee reviews these applications, and then chooses a few to be interviewed by a smaller subcommittee. In the interview, you introduce your chosen speaker in addition to fielding questions from the committee members. Like any application process, it was a bit stressful, but I also thought it was pretty fun.

Petzold: It was certainly stressful because it’s something that really mattered to me, that I really wanted to do. But I also enjoyed the application process; I really like writing and presenting and public speaking and so forth. The application was a chance for me to put to paper for the first time all my thoughts about the Ath that I’ve had since the first week of my freshman year.

What’s your favorite book or movie and why?

Riva: Wow, so many! I will have to give you two. My favorite books are Dune, by Frank Herbert, and Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. I like Dune because I think it is a really intriguing sketch that brings up questions about morality and political philosophy, as well as a really cool work of science fiction. And I just love the characters in Pride and Prejudice.

Petzold: With such a big, daunting question, I suppose the best place to start is to say that Some Like it Hot has been my favorite movie since I was maybe 10 years old. It’s hard to say why that’s so, but I’ll leave it at the fact that Billy Wilder, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon are all revered icons and deservedly so.

What is the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

Riva: My high school physics teacher used to always tell me that the most important thing in making decisions is to do what is right for you, regardless of recognition or peer pressure or what looks good on a resume. I think that is something that it is really important to remind ourselves of every once in a while, especially in this day and age when everyone feels that they need to triple major and go to Harvard grad school in order to be successful or happy. Really, just do what you are passionate about, and success will follow from that.

Petzold: The Jewish tradition tells us to pray as if everything depends upon God and act as if everything depends upon ourselves. (The idea is hardly exclusive to Judaism a similar sentiment is attributed to St. Augustine.) I try to live this way.