Tradition of Excellence Awards honor distinguished alumni

November 7, 2014

Earlier today, Oak Park and River High School held its 32nd annual Tradition of Excellence Awards, which honored three alumni. First given in 1982, the awards are presented annually to alumni or former students whose accomplishments have brought great credit to their alma mater.

As always, the recipients spoke to the assembled student body, reflecting on their experiences at OPRF and offering words of wisdom. This year's honorees were:

Richard W. Cottle (1953), a Harvard graduate and accomplished mathematician who specializes in quadratic programming.  The winner of numerous honors and awards, he is renowned for his overall body of work. Dr. Cottle, who presented via a prerecorded video, told students about struggling at OPRF in his college-level algebra class. After getting a C in the class, he was advised by the teacher to repeat it if he took any math in college. He didn't--and later ended up teaching from the very same textbook he used at OPRF. "If you're disappointed in your performance, it's always worth trying again," he told students. "It needn't be a barrier to future success."

Joan Rohlfing (1978) is president of Nuclear Threat Initiative, or NTI, which works to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. She held a number of senior positions with the U.S. Department of Energy, and took a nine-month assignment in New Delhi, India, in the wake of nuclear tests in South Asia, to advise the U.S. ambassador on nuclear security issues. Ms. Rolfing presented a sobering graphic illustrating the extent of destruction that would be caused if Oak Park were the epicenter of a nuclear bomb. She concluded by exhorting students, "This is your world. This is your future. This is your time to speak out."

Gregory  Cappelli (1985) is a financial analyst and co-chief executive officer of Apollo Group and Chairman of Apollo Global, which focuses on enhancing higher education and its effect on the global economy. Apollo is the parent company of the University of Phoenix, a ground-breaker in online higher education. He described how he got his first job in investment banking by following people coming out of their offices on Wall Street and "begging my way into the company I wanted to work for." He went on to encourage the assembled students to "suck up every bit of knowledge you can at OPRF. Knowledge is power, and it will turn you into leaders instead of followers."

In the photo: Joan Rohlfing and Greg Cappelli (center) surrounded by members of Student Council and Principal Nate Rouse.