By Vincent Ferrer |
TINTON FALLS – “Don’t ever plan your career” was one of the messages acclaimed lawyer and CNN analyst Preet Bharara had for students Saturday, Sept. 29 while visiting Ranney School. The former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York returned to his alma mater for a “fireside chat” about his career path, current events and his future plans.
Led by questions from Mark DiGiovanni, Ranney history chair, Bharara spoke candidly – and many times humorously – on topics ranging from his headline making prosecutions and the Brett Kavanaugh proceedings to career advice and the importance of youth in politics.
“Basically, I’ve made a career over the last 20 years by running my mouth,” said Bharara jokingly while explaining the connection between strong writing skills and success. Yet he was somber and thoughtful when discussing the need for change in the judicial hearing process.
“The system is broken,” Bharara said. The important question now “is what is going to be the view of hundreds of millions of people on that institution?”
A Model of Success
A 1986 Ranney School graduate, Bharara went on to earn degrees from Harvard College and Columbia Law School. From 2009 to 2017 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and was named to “Time” magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2012.
He currently serves as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the New York University School of Law and hosts “Stay Tuned with Preet,” a podcast focused on issues of justice and fairness.
Luke Denver-Moore, a Red Bank resident and senior at Ranney, attended the talk. “I personally am interested in government and politics quite a great deal. So having someone who is so accomplished and who has such an important opinion about so many issues…to me, it was just a very important experience to have,” he said.
More than 150 people attended the public event, which included current Ranney students and parents, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (NJ-6), himself a past Ranney parent, and 17-year Ranney educator Barbara Tomlinson, whom Bharara credits as being one of his best teachers. Tomlinson was inducted into the Ranney Hall of Fame in the second part of the afternoon’s event.
Off The Beaten Path
Much to the dismay of his own parents, who emigrated from India and settled in Eatontown, Bharara chose to forgo a career in medicine. “Other than knowing I wanted to be an attorney, I didn’t have a planned career trajectory,” said Bharara. He reminisced on the trials of high school and the expectations of his family. “High school is not an easy time for anybody, whether you did well in school or not,” he said. “It was not an easy time for me, so it’s a little bit like coming home, but also like PTSD.”
Nevertheless, he persevered. He and his brother Vinit graduated together as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Vinit also attended Columbia Law, and went on to found several successful internet-based ventures including diapers.com, which was later sold to Amazon in a reported $500 million acquisition.
Bharara’s strong work ethic landed him a nomination from President Obama for arguably one of the most powerful positions in U.S. law. And while many have tried to reverse-engineer his career, the true takeaway he promotes is to not overplan; opportunities arise from simply putting in the work.
“We ask students to learn to lead honorably, think creatively and contribute meaningfully,” said John W. Griffith, headmaster at Ranney. “I think that last piece is one of the reasons that this fireside chat this afternoon really exemplifies what we think is a critical part of that mission. That is, public service, engagement and intellectual politics on either side.” He affirmed Bharara’s career as a prime example.
A Bright Future
That example shows no signs of stopping. Alongside former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Bharara is co-chairing the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy. The Task Force is currently considering a congressional submission that would call for the president to explain the decision-making behind future presidential pardons.
With an eye toward the future, Bharara was nothing but optimistic for this current generation of students, whom he views as being much more informed. “I would just hope that translates into voting, being knowledgeable about the candidates,” he said. “I think there should be tremendous encouragement for kids to get involved in activism.”
When asked about opportunities in the legal sector, Bharara pointed to the upward enrollments seen nationally in law schools. “There’s a lot of good work that can be done by lawyers in this country right now and I encourage more people to do it.”
The public is welcome to attend Ranney School’s upcoming Fall Festival, Saturday, Oct. 6 at noon. Prospective parents are invited to register for Ranney School’s Open House, Saturday, Oct. 13.
This article was first published in the Oct. 4 – Oct. 10, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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