Here’s another installment from the small world department.

Last week our paper was trucked up from Philadelphia by John Mitchell, the man who has delivered our paper from printing plant to parking lot ever since the late 1980s. Mitchell and his wife had just returned from a one-week vacation to Mexico. So the big question around the truck was “how was Mexico?”

Mexico, replied the deeply tanned Mitchell, was great, but it was spring break in Mexico, and spring break was not so great. Mitchell and his wife arrived at their hotel at the same time American college students landed in drunken droves. What should have been a blissful week of sunshine and swimming turned into a series of encounters with midnight and post-midnight revelers romping through hotel corridors. Mitchell came back to New Jersey still burning a little — and not from the sun.

I had to empathize. One winter years ago I went to Puerto Rico for a week, rented a room overlooking the pool at a fancy hotel, and discovered that I had been joined by a battalion of Marines on leave — their version of spring break, I guess — from a nearby military base. The drinking and horseplay at the pool went on day and night. On the second day I looked down at the pool and saw that it had turned color — from sparkling blue to dull yellow. I immediately checked out.

At the end of last delivery day I was still thinking about spring break reveries when I collected the April 3 edition of the Daily Princetonian from my mailbox. There on the front page was the headline: “Spring break in Mexico, minus MTV.” Small world, I thought, and I began to read:

“For the people of Medellin, Mexico, we redefined the phrase ‘los spring breakers.’ Instead of sipping on pina coladas at the trendiest five-star hotel, 10 Princeton students donned work gloves over spring break and laid hundreds of bricks to construct a kindergarten.

“We traveled to the town of 4,000 as part of the Cruz Blanca Initiative (CBI), a non-profit group of Princeton students founded seven years ago and dedicated to promoting self sustainable development and facilitating cross-cultural exchange in the state of Veracruz.”

Senior writer Regina Lee told how CBI had been asked by a teachers union in Veracruz to help with the kindergarten because the state had just imposed a rule requiring children to have three years of kindergarten before they could enter a public primary school. In a small town like Medellin, with a rule like that, children might never enter the public school system.

CBI could make a difference in such small towns. The Princetonian story then quoted the founder of CBI, Kush Parmar, Princeton Class of 2002, who still participates every year in the program.

Kush. That name rings a bell. Sure enough, Kush has to be the earnest young future medical doctor I met through one of U.S. 1’s summer interns, Bev Prewitt, also Princeton Class of 2002. Small world, indeed.

At a time when Princeton in the Nation’s Service, the school’s old motto, conjures up images of Senator Bill Frist ‘74 voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito ‘72; when the newest residential college on campus will be named in honor of benefactor Meg Whitman ‘77, CEO of eBay; when the biggest news in the arts on campus is the announcement of a $100 million gift from Progressive Insurance chairman Peter B. Lewis ‘55; and when the current crop of university trustees includes captains of old and new industries (imagine John Wynne ‘67, retired CEO of Landmark Communications, and Eric Schmidt ‘76, CEO of Google, in the same room); at just such a time it’s nice to know that not everyone who comes out of the place equates service with power and wealth.

In the mailbox with the Daily Princetonian account of spring break in Mexico came a ballot for alumni trustees of the university. I looked through the roster of candidates.

They included Mark Siegler ‘63 of Chicago, whose resume boasted all the usual glitter affiliated with an M.D. in internal medicine, but with one interesting twist: Siegler is founding director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, where he has defined a new field of study, clinical medical ethics.

Then there was the aptly named Amy Miracle ‘85 of Des Moines, Iowa. A magna cum laude graduate and a Marshall Scholar, Miracle’s next stop probably could have been Harvard for an MBA or Yale for a law degree. Instead it was a four-year internship at an urban Presbyterian church in New York. Today she is the senior pastor of a church in Des Moines. “I know very few people who love their work as much as I love mine.”

And then there was one more small world moment. One of the “at large” candidates in the flyer was John O’Brien ‘65 of Hershey, PA. Sure enough, it was the same John O’Brien profiled in one of the very first issues of U.S. 1, when he was based in Princeton and running a consulting company that exposed business executives to high-performance leadership activities. Today O’Brien is president of the Milton Hershey School, an institution that he knows well. O’Brien spent 14 years of his childhood at the orphanage, and was the first of its graduates to matriculate at Princeton.

So for all the college kids going crazy on spring break, there are still others using their time in other ways. The next time our John Mitchell thinks of going to Mexico during spring break, we will put him in touch with Bev Prewitt, who can refer him to Kush Parmar. Mitchell, who happens to be accomplished in several building trades, would be more than welcome at their party.

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