Frank Bruni Visits Groton

frank-bruniAmid the dreariness and sadness that comes with Mondays, Frank Bruni, not the red-headed Fifth Former at Groton, but rather the widely known New York Times op-ed columnist and a best-selling author who happened to be Frank Bruni ’15’s uncle, arrived on the Circle. He started the day by giving a chapel talk about his travels and telling the school some personal stories, and he later met with English classes to answer questions about his experiences and tell more about himself.

He decided to come to Groton mostly because of his nephew, Frank Bruni ’15. A teacher initially asked Frank to ask his uncle how he would feel about coming to Groton. Mr. Bruni first made sure that Frank Bruni ’15 would be okay with him visiting, and then accepted. Having attended Loomis Chaffee, a similar, but larger, boarding school in Connecticut, Mr. Bruni said he got a good impression from Groton. According to him, the community seemed “small and intimate.” However, Mr. Bruni also commented on the casual dress code and was surprised that it wasn’t more strictly enforced.

Mr. Bruni grew up in a loud, rowdy household and from a young age learned to love food. He chronicles this love in his book Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater. He wrote for the Loomis Chaffee school newspaper in high school, albeit mostly music and movie reviews. However, Mr. Bruni started writing seriously as a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, writing for The Daily Tar Heel, and after graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in English, he pursued a career in journalism after obtaining a master’s degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism, graduating second in his class at one of the most respected journalism schools in the world. He then worked for the Detroit Free Press, covering the Persian Gulf War. Afterwards, he joined the New York Times in 1995. He started out as a metropolitan reporter and was then promoted to write political articles in Washington DC, covering topics like Capitol Hill, Congress, and then Governor George W. Bush’s presidential campaign. He wrote about these topics in his other book, Ambling into History.

Mr. Bruni was then promoted to be the  head of the Rome Bureau, a role he occupied for two years before the Times tapped him to be their new restaurant critic, a prestigious role in the culinary world. When he was working in Rome, he suddenly got a phone call from the Times asking him to consider the position. He figured why not: a promotion and getting paid to eat food? This new job was a whirlwind for Mr. Bruni as he struggled with his love-hate relationship with food. He even recounted stories about being recognized as a critic in different restaurants. For example, in Nobu 57 in Manhattan, the manager of the restaurant offered to pay for dry cleaning and even replace his shirt due to a “soap malfunction.” Bruni eventually stepped down from the position in 2009. He has also written articles for Men’s Vogue and in 2011, became the New York Times’ first openly gay op-ed columnist. In 2012, Mr. Bruni was awarded the Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award for Outstanding Newspaper Columnist. Now, Mr. Bruni is a widely known op-ed columnist for the New York Times, writing about politics and other topics.

When asked about how informed he thought our generation is, he responded that we weren’t terribly well-informed, but he couldn’t blame us for having not enough time to be able to stay updated on current events. Mr. Bruni also recalled he wished he had read the newspaper when he was younger. He does, however, believe that the quality of our leaders in the future depends on our generation and that, ten years from now, we should all be staying updated on current issues and events. Even though the New York Times is his employer, he honestly considers it his favorite publication. He believes the New York Times is a well-written source of news and information about a wide variety of topics. Mr. Bruni also enjoys reading excerpts from the New Yorker.

In his chapel talk, Bruni spoke about a topic previously referenced in his article “Traveling without Seeing.” He recounted his experience in Shanghai, when he found himself cooped up in a hotel room watching his favorite television shows instead of wandering the streets, experiencing a new culture. Throughout his talk, Bruni warns us against developing the “customized cocoons” of which we are so fond. These cocoons are constructed from luxury, excessive technology, and an unwillingness to experience new things. Bruni argues that the Internet has had a somewhat ironic effect on us – instead of expanding our horizons, we can now pick and choose exactly which articles, shows, and interviews to watch. Often, we end up choosing media which presents the very same opinions we hold ourselves. Instead of hearing and accepting new ideas, we reinforce our own. This is an important lesson for Groton students, and Bruni reminds us not to get lost in technology when the real world is happening all around us.

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