Friday’s panel featured a surprise guest.
Tony Blair, University President Richard Levin, and history professor Paul Kennedy were joined by Pierson junior Lita Tandon ’10. Who is she? And, perhaps the more important question: how did she come to share the stage with a former British prime minister in front of 2,000 people in Woolsey Hall?
Hundreds of students applied for just a handful of undergraduate slots in Blair’s class, but there was no application process for a slot in Friday’s panel. The President’s Office determined that it wanted to include a student on the panel, and soon zeroed in on Tandon.
Tandon is the niece of Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, the CEO of Pepsico and a member of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body.
Although Levin said he had first met Tandon through Nooyi, he said he thought of her because he was impressed with her work for Global21, a network of international affairs publications at prestigious universities worldwide.
“It seemed natural to find a student who was very engaged in international affairs,” he said.
As the executive director of Global21, Tandon exemplified the global perspective that the University was promoting on Friday, her colleagues said.
“Global21 works well with the themes Blair brought up,” said editorial director Alice Baumgartner. “We’re working hard to foster dialogue between our chapters around the world.”
The idea to involve a student, Levin said, was modeled after a similar format when former President George H. W. Bush ’48 visited for Yale’s tercentennial in 2001.
The first hint of Tandon’s participation came in an e-mail from University Secretary Linda Lorimer several weeks ago asking if Tandon would like to be involved in Blair’s visit. The nature of that involvement wasn’t clear until Tandon met with Lorimer a few days later, when Lorimer asked her to join the panel.
Lorimer offered to let Tandon sleep on it, but Tandon had no reservations.
“I was really excited and really flattered,” she said in an interview. “This will definitely go down as one of the coolest things I’ve done.”
Inspired by the Yale Globalist magazine, Global21 began to establish counterparts at other universities in 2005. Today, the organization, which has received financial support from Yale, has 10 chapters on five continents, including, as Levin pointed out Friday, the University of Cambridge.
There appears to be some strife, though, with that particular chapter. Asked about the relationship between Global21 and the Cambridge Globalist, editor Guy Kiddey said in an e-mail, “There is no relationship between the two.” Tandon described him as something of a renegade.
Katharine Kendrick ’09, the editor of the Yale Globalist, declined to comment.
Just as Global21 builds a network of magazines, it tries to build a network of future global leaders, Tandon said. The organization encourages collaboration among the students at its different chapters, many of whom had the chance to meet each other at a conference this past summer in Istanbul.
On the big day, Tandon said she was surprised by how personable Blair was, both before and during the program. She said she felt very comfortable talking to him and asking him questions.
Though she was lucky enough to be the one up there, Tandon said it could have been anyone.
“It’s Yale — there’s a lot of students who could have done a great job in that position,” she said.
—Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.