Linda Passaro ’87

I remember my freshman year moving into Clark Hall, and my brother Mark, who was attending Princeton at the time, saying to my parents, "You are going to leave your daughter here?" The co-ed dorms and bathrooms seemed to him just a bit too liberal. Wesleyan was not my top school pick. Princeton decided to accept Brooke Shields that year and not me. But alas in my heart I knew I could not live in my brother’s shadow anymore and Wesleyan was where I was supposed to start my adult life journey.

My first class in psychology was "The Psychology of the Family" and the prof said, "All families are dysfunctional." I knew my love of psych would somehow take me to my future happiness. The entire Wesleyan way of learning developed me in ways I cannot even put into words - speaking your mind, supporting your ideas and never fearing to be different. 

Why then did I take my love of psychology and move to a marketing career, landing a brand manager role at DeBeers diamonds? How did I go to South Africa representing a diamond cartel having partaken in anti-apartheid rallies at Wes? The dichotomy of my life seemed a bit ironic, but only my Wesleyan experience could have prepared me to ask board members at DeBeers how the company made life better in South Africa and to embrace native mine managers, asking how life had changed for their families. 

Only Wesleyan developed in me an awareness that our life does not need to be linear. I left global luxury brands like DeBeers and Montblanc and Longines (with many fewer personal jewels than most would think) to find humbler roles that allowed me more time at home with my three young children. The next road presented was to partner with Russell Simmons, hip-hop mogul, on a journey back to South Africa. This was a mission to encourage the diamond jewelry industry to develop a new entity called the Diamond Empowerment Fund. With the creation of a small Green Bracelet, we were able to raise over $1.0 million for a college in South Africa called the CIDA School in Johannesburg. We visited the campus and I was struck by the singing and passion of these students who managed the campus life, cooking, cleaning and learning. Students had passion, hopes and dreams of how they would be future leaders of their country. They attended school on scholarships with the obligation to return to their villages to teach the children the path to a better life.

This Is Why Wesleyan was the education I was meant to experience. With a Wesleyan philosophy of life & learning, I had a strong foundation of acceptance and the ability carve my own path in business. My oldest daughter now boards at The Lawrenceville School. She chose Lawrenceville because "of the diversity, community and Harkness learning." Her student body President Maya Peterson is the first woman to hold that title. Maya, Leeann and I had the pleasure of becoming fast friends. Maya could have applied to any university and she chose ED at Wesleyan Class '18, making our personal bond already stronger. 

Raising three active kids with a demanding career has kept me from walking campus or attending reunions. But I love sharing the special attributes of Wesleyan with the next generation of leaders to whom I say, "Wesleyan is unique & empowering. You will find your individual strength with community acceptance. You will become a leader who dares to be different."