Despite his demanding involvement with both domestic and foreign politics, former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste ’59 stressed the importance of personal contentment and balance between one’s professional and personal lives at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea on Thursday.

“I think serendipity is really important in life,” Celeste told about 50 students who gathered at the tea just hours after President Bush’s inauguration ceremony.

Celeste, the current president of Colorado College, has a rich history in politics and foreign affairs, having served as the director of the Peace Corps under President Carter and as ambassador to India during President Clinton’s term. With humor and graciousness, Celeste encouraged students to become involved in community service, leadership and cultural activities.

Involvement with organizations like the Peace Corps, Celeste said, not only enables people to contribute to society in a significant way but also allows them to see the world in a different light.

“When you are overseas for an extended period of time, you see your country in a different perspective and you know more about yourself,” Celeste said.

To illustrate this point, Celeste related a story about a woman who was legally blind and decided to volunteer for a gardening project in Senegal. At the end of her experience, she said that she had gained “new eyes,” as she came to see the world and herself differently, Celeste said.

After leading the Peace Corps, Celeste served for two terms as a Democratic governor of Ohio. In order to really make a difference, he said, leaders must have a good team, build a strong political base and have clear goals.

“You recruit talented people, you build political constituency and you have a clear vision of what you want to achieve,” Celeste said. “It was great fun, but you cannot do it alone.”

After his governorship, Celeste stayed in Ohio managing an economic development firm until 1997, when he began serving as U.S. ambassador to India. He drew on his international experience in the Peace Corps and as an ambassador to advise students on how to approach intercultural relations. When one student asked how to overcome cultural barriers, Celeste said one does not “overcome” cultural barriers, but rather “appreciates” other cultures.

“You don’t really overcome cultural boundaries,” Celeste said. “Culture is well-defined. You learn to respect and enjoy what is on the other side of the boundary.”

Celeste said students should get involved in activities that genuinely interest and excite them.

“Listen to that drumbeat that’s yours,” Celeste said.

Students at the Tea said they were impressed with Celeste’s broad range of experiences, insight into life — and his humor.

“Celeste was basically my idol,” Haley Edwards ’05 said. “He’s very inspirational, very down to earth and very funny.”

Edwards is a columnist for the News.

Saybrook Master Mary Miller said Celeste was successful in promoting the value of a well-balanced psyche and the ability to take life as it comes.

“I loved his emphasis on serendipity and staying open to how things can just happen in life, and thus there’s an interest in avoiding life as a script,” Miller said.