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NYU President John Sexton Speaks to Students at Town Hall

For anyone who had read the recent New York magazine list of “Power Huggers,” which included NYU President John Sexton, it came as no surprise that the Town Hall meeting held in NYU-Poly’s Regna Lounge on October 8 featured some embracing. What made the event especially lively, however, was the wide-ranging and eclectic nature of the conversation that took place, which encompassed such topics as the working habits of mathematicians, Lady Gaga, and the musings of Eugene O’Neill, who wrote a line that ranks among Sexton’s favorites: “The people who succeed and who do not push on to a greater failure are the spiritual middle classes.”

President Sexton — or John, as he repeatedly asked students and a reluctant President Sreenivasan to call him — warmly engaged with NYU-Poly students at the Town Hall meeting, where he introduced himself and answered questions. He exhorted the attendees to think of the gathering as a family event, and, indeed, his bearing could fairly be described as avuncular—if your uncle also happened to be a former debate coach, theologian, and Harvard-trained lawyer.

Sexton, a native of Brooklyn, cheerfully drew attention to his still-discernible accent and told of his upbringing a “stone’s throw” from Poly’s campus. He regaled the audience with the inside story of how the affiliation between Poly and NYU had come about (a tale that could easily be the subject of an entire book) and expressed delight at returning to his home borough. “And If you invite me back, I’ll definitely show up again,” he proclaimed, “so be careful what you wish for!”

When John Keshecki, the president of NYU-Poly’s Student Council, opened the crowded floor to questions, they covered a variety of issues, starting with what engineering would mean to NYU. Sexton held that Poly’s inclusion will increase NYU’s profile and prestige and vowed to help catapult it into the top 20 engineering schools in the country by 2020. "To really get to the next level, we needed a school of engineering," he said. He asserted that Poly students could be a force for spreading a love of science throughout the University.  “Go to the Square and tell them,” he urged. “Make them welcome on the Poly campus.”

Sexton encouraged Poly’s aspiring engineers to take advantage of all NYU has to offer, no matter how demanding their courses. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are important, he acknowledged, but so are the arts. Let’s add that A, he enthusiastically declared, and focus on “STEAM as well as STEM.”

He also implored them to be mindful of their personal lives: “No matter how busy you get, it’s also important to make time for friends and family. You can do it if you manage your time wisely,” he said.

Sexton is uniquely qualified to offer advice on time management. In addition to his presidential duties, he teaches a full course load, spending portions of the month in Abu Dhabi. And while the almost 100 students there would have been happy to remain in Regna for hours more to talk, he eventually had to depart to teach one of his classes—his popular offering on baseball and its connection to God. (Sexton is also the author of the well-reviewed book Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game, which was published earlier this year.) 

Sexton mentioned that throughout the year he hosts a series of small dinners for students — choosing the guests by lottery — and invited everyone to submit their names for a chance to attend. Considering the fun and laughter of the Town Hall meeting, which saw a crowd of Poly students lining up to take pictures, many will be vying for a seat at the president’s table and, of course, a hug.