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Their Giving Begins at Home, Wherever That May Be
Stanford Professor Scott Sagan and Bao Lamsam endow the Three Books program.
As they prepared to leave their parents, every member of Stanford's incoming Class of 2017 received three books, all on the meaning of "home." For the university's Three Books program, the students would read them prior to arriving at Stanford, where they would hear from the books' authors during New Student Orientation.
"The Three Books program creates a common intellectual experience that sets the tone for what will be their home for the next several years," says Scott Sagan, the Caroline S. G. Munro Professor in Political Science and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute.
Now the Three Books experience has a permanent home at Stanford, thanks to a $1 million endowment for the program from Sagan and his wife, Sujitpan Bao Lamsam (Parents '12, '15).
Sagan became familiar with the Three Books program in 2011 when he was invited to select the readings. He chose the theme "War Ethics," a subject close to his heart as a scholar at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation and one of the world's top experts on nuclear strategy and national security. "It was very moving for me personally to see how influential the program was," he says.
A Place that Keeps Changing
For Sagan, home is "a place that keeps changing. For my first 18 years I identified Dearborn, Michigan, as home. Then it was Cambridge, Massachusetts. Now I am happy to identify Stanford as home."
For Lamsam, a finance executive with expertise in global banking and insurance industries, home is "about people more than a place," she explains. "My mother and the rest of my family live in Bangkok, Thailand, where I also was born and lived until I went to college at Cambridge University in England."
While she worked for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and Sagan was at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home seemed like an airplane, she jokes. "We were the modern love triangle: a man, a woman, and the Eastern Shuttle."
But after living in the Palo Alto area for 20 years, the town and the university are both her intellectual home and the place she and her husband raised three children, Benjamin, '12, MS '14, Charlotte, '15, and Samuel.
The couple's gift allowed Three Books to experiment with new approaches to this year's readings: The Art of Fielding, a novel by Chad Harbach; The Outsourced Self, by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild; and First They Killed My Father, by human rights activist Loung Ung.
Over the summer incoming freshmen and transfer students had a chance to participate in online office hours, joining in live chats with faculty and submitting questions for the authors before the September panel discussion.
The result was an inspiring panel, says Nicholas Jenkins, associate professor of English and faculty director for the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, who served as the faculty moderator of this year's program. "I was moved when the whole audience of students stood up and applauded at the end," he says. "The spontaneous standing ovation for the authors was a deeply meaningful tribute and an expression of thanks both to our guests and, I believe, to those who made the event possible."
Hochschild, the sociologist, offered a remark that especially resonates with Sagan and Lamsam. She said one of her goals in life is to be "empathically extended."
"Our own children are the center of our home and our life," says Sagan. "But my students over the years have become my extended family. In that way, they teach me empathy every day as well."