I had been in his presence before, but this felt different. I had been working for years doing communications around the gift and construction of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at MSU. It all had been exciting — a huge gift, an architect competition, the selection of a Pritzker Prize-winning designer and finally the construction of this unique, somewhat jarring, angled building in a place where it didn’t seem to fit.
Along the way, I had casual contact with Eli and Edythe Broad. But, on that night in 2012, I was going to be part of a very small party accompanying them as they toured the museum bearing their name for the first time. I considered it an incredible privilege to witness the pure delight apparent on their faces and learn more about the building they brought to life.
While we toured every corner of the building, Eli, who sadly passed away last week, was kind, funny, smart, inquisitive and generous, and I was thrilled to be able to spend time in his presence. I knew, from his own admission, he could also be unreasonable. Honestly, had he not been, I probably wouldn’t have been standing there in that museum that evening.
There is nothing reasonable about the museum — not its architecture, the fact that it doesn’t have visible right angles, its placement in an older section of campus or the architect who designed it, Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016. It’s only in being a bit unreasonable, questioning the status quo, that big things happen.
It’s how Eli lived his incredibly successful life that allowed him to become a billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist. It’s why MSU was able to benefit through his generous gifts to the museum, the Eli Broad College of Business and the College of Education. His best-selling book, "The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking,” shared that philosophy with all of us.
There are many days when I have to remind myself to be a little more like Eli, a little more unreasonable. Not in an angry way, but a way that challenges, dreams, imagines and pulls down artificial barriers and conventions. Imagine all the work we could do if we all thought outside the box a little more often.
I attended a friend’s daughter’s graduation this past weekend (from a distance, masked) from MSU’s Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. As I watched the bright young Spartans cross the stage, I wished for them a little unreasonableness in their futures — the kind of thinking and action that changes lives for the better.
It was uplifting to see so many talented class of 2021 graduates all over campus that day. I wanted to celebrate each one. Some super talented colleagues of mine created an awesome video titled Celebrating the Spartan class of 2021 to showcase the students’ experiences during the last four years. I highly recommend it, but you might want to have a tissue nearby. Just saying.
Some would say it would be unreasonable to want to finish your college degree when you’re 75-years old. But that’s exactly what John Huetteman, who started at MSU in 1964 but left to join the Army, did this year when he graduated as part of the class of 2021. Unreasonable? Maybe. Fantastic? Absolutely!
Some might also have told Cristina Szelingowski, who is entering her final year in MSU’s Master of Public Health Program, that it was unreasonable to start the program as a wife and working mother. Read her Student view: Pursuing public health as a working mom to learn more about this dedicated Spartan.
While many of us are saddened by the loss of Eli, he has left us all with not just buildings, but wisdom and the encouragement to think differently and imagine the impossible. He said, “One of the things you’ll discover when you ask, ‘Why not?’ is that life is richer when you live it among the dreamers.” Dream big and change the world. Spartans Will.
Photo by Kurt Stepnitz
In his own words
While taping his Spartan Saga in 2014, Broad had these words about his goals for giving back.