Alum Advice During COVID-19: Tom Kempe ’65

Dear Seaver Students,

Disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic bring many challenges as well as opportunities not even considered earlier. The oldest example was the Great Depression in the 1930’s. My own parents were both forced to leave college and find jobs that were not their first choices. My father was an engineering major, and I remember him talking about his fascination in the “ether of space.” Instead of a scientific career, he was hired into President Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), where he planted 1000’s of trees and fought forest fires in Northern Wisconsin. He was one of 300,000 such volunteers that grew to over 3 million young people working on national infrastructure and environment. He eventually found a position in the US Postal Service, and my mother worked for the State of Wisconsin.

My own college years at Loyola included excitement and optimism when JFK was elected President. He challenged the youth to get involved, and began the exploration of space. As students, we lived thru his assassination (I was behind the gym playing basketball when we heard the news, and headed to the chapel), only to be soon followed after graduation by two more killings of liberal leaders, his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King Jr.  Some students drove to Alabama and Mississippi to join the freedom marches!  Then came the Vietnam war and the draft of recent graduates into the military. I was in graduate school then, and had a student deferment, but still was required to go through a physical, in case they needed more troops. We even had to take a test to see if we were “smart” enough for the Army!  That was followed by the draft lottery system, where we were all assigned a number, from one to about 400. Fortunately, mine was 285, and the highest number called over the years was 195. You became exempt at age 26. By then, anti-war protests were in swing: Berkeley, Chicago and Kent State.

However, I lost friends and Loyola colleagues during the war. We all marched on campus in the AF-ROTC classes during freshman and sophomore years (there was no PhysEd back then), and some spent the next two years as Air Force recruits. I have visited the Vietnam Memorial in DC and paid respect to their names on the wall. So on this Memorial Day, I remember those who met their fate in that time, as well as those unfortunate victims of the corona virus pandemic.

The take-home message is that students have always been faced with challenges and decisions: what path to follow, and making choices that affect the future. Fortunately, most of these are not life/death circumstances. The 2000 dot-com bubble and collapse, and the 2008-09 housing crisis are examples of unexpected forks in the road. What you can control is how to develop a broad education filled with wide experiences and a flexible mind and attitude. I was a chemistry major, and eventually led a laboratory for over 40 years in biotech discovery, developing genetically engineered fully human antibodies for medical diagnostics and human therapeutic oncology and disease applications. None of these areas existed back in the ’60’s and ’70’s.

Be assured that the COVID-19 interruption will lead to new areas in many fields to develop and pursue! Always maintain that optimistic outlook of youth!  You are the future!

Thanks!

Tom Kempe ’65