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Executive Director's Message:

Sunday Supper and Freudian Slippers

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Martin Brennan

What is particularly distinctive about I-House? My answer: "Sunday Suppers." This gathering of residents, alumni and friends to share food, entertainment and friendship always brings something memorable. Our February 12 Sunday Supper was a prime example. The auditorium was packed. Residents Momen El-Husseiny and Dotto Mnyadi held us spellbound as they provided first-hand accounts of the Egyptian revolution and the breakthroughs and challenges in combating HIV-AIDS in Africa.

Freudian Slippers

By tradition, I am granted the last word—a delightful prerogative of the Executive Director as long as my droning is restrained. As I prepared my remarks for this Sunday Supper my bulb stayed dim no matter how many times I proclaimed "Fiat Lux!" Sigmund Freud once said: "When inspiration does not come to me, I go halfway to meet it." Well, earlier in the week an alumnus had presented me with a pair of slippers featuring the face of none other than Sigmund Freud. I decided to don these Freudian Slippers to take me halfway to inspiration. In fact, I wore them at Sunday Supper. They did not spark a new fashion trend.

I focused my remarks on leadership—a topic particularly relevant as I-House has just launched the Initiative on Intercultural Leadership for a select group of residents.

Most of us have been raised in the dichotomous world of leaders and followers. You are either a leader or a follower. In many cultures, perhaps most cultures, leaders grab the headlines, inspire statues and their names are affixed to streets and parks. By this formula followers are, well, just followers.

At the International Houses Worldwide Conference in Brisbane this January, we learned about First Followers. Simply put, while all leaders have followers, not all followers are equal. First Followers see the value of the leader's vision and have the courage to risk embarrassment, failure or even ostracization by stepping forward. The first follower validates the leader. Indeed, when other followers come forward, they are often responding to the first follower—the one who pioneered the path to the leader's vision.

I-House is a community of first followers. The vision that guides I-House is almost a century old yet is validated afresh as each generation of residents stretches across cultural divides to establish the life-long friendships that inform their future. As I meet I-House alumni around the world, most recently at the I-House reunion in Sydney, I am always inspired that so many of our alumni exemplify Gandhi's invitation to "live the change you want to see in the world."

On May 3rd, we will honor Daniel Mouen-Makoua as I-House Alumnus of the Year. Daniel has devoted enormous energy and courage to launch a project that aims to bring a better life to a part of northern Nigeria where hope all too often lies in the shadow of fear. This summer, thanks to the good offices of I-House New York and Davis Projects for Peace, three teams of newly minted alumni will undertake peace projects in Latin America and the Middle East.

As my tenure at this wonderful institution meets the horizon, I am grateful to have had an opportunity to receive so much inspiration from the international family that is I-House. During my first days here a resident reflected upon I-House and commented "We are the future." May this be so and may I-House continue to be a House of hope. It will always be present in me, and should Giovanna and I have the good fortune to be invited to attend a Sunday Supper, I promise to leave my slippers at home.

-Martin Brennan