Alum Advice During COVID-19: Herb Yonger ’57

Dear Seaver Students,

You’re probably worried today about your immediate future: the virus, graduation, your first job and the ones to follow. Don’t be. Those things really aren’t in your control anyway. Put them in the hands of the One who really is in control. A century from now, today’s troubles will be ancient history. More importantly, you will have left this world and its concerns. Prepare for that day, stay close to God, and be ready to take advantage of whatever He offers between now and then.

I grew up when polio was as fearsome as the virus is today. There was no vaccine, it struck as it would, and there was a real chance of spending life in a wheelchair like President Roosevelt. Or worse. No one worries about polio today. The day will come when no one worries about COVID-19.

You have an idea of what you will do after you graduate. Good. Do it. Or pursue the next opportunity to come your way. But don’t expect to spend the rest of your life doing it.

I had an interest in science fiction when I was in college, as did many of my classmates. We even produced a weekly science fiction drama series on KXLU. It was fun, but we knew it was fiction. I enjoyed looking at the moon and the planets through my homemade telescope. I knew Von Braun was building rockets. But I didn’t really expect anything, much less anybody, to be going far from Earth in my lifetime.

I graduated in 1957 with a primary interest in communications and a job with Pacific Telephone. I started work teaching telephone techs about a brand new technology I had just studied: color television. After a 3-year break with the Navy, I expected to return to the phone company and a lifetime job since it was well known that the Bell System would be around forever.

A year later, I saw a strange object in the sky while on an evening watch at a Navy facility in Washington: Sputnik. Everything changed.

I didn’t return to Ma Bell. A decade later, I was managing a NASA Deep Space Station, tracking spacecraft on their way to the planets as well as men walking on the moon.

Warren Wenzel, my closest friend in college, followed me into the Bell System. For him, it was a lifetime job; he died in 1972. And the Bell System itself died only a few years later.

We had a unit on computers in my EE program. We memorized the names of all the computers in the world, all five of them. I hoped I might get to use a computer some day. Three decades later, I was managing a supercomputer applications group at JPL.

I had a great number of blessings in both my professional and personal lives. I don’t believe for a minute that they were because I’m so smart. It’s said that a coincidence is when God chooses to be anonymous. I have seen uncanny coincidences at every turning point in my life. I know where they came from.

You don’t know the future, but God does. Stay close to Him, and go where He sends you. Pray. Frequently. Many of you will have an opportunity unavailable to most of the world: the Eucharist. Take full advantage. What you learned in your technical courses will give you a living. What you learned in the chapel will give you a life.

-Herb Yonger ’57