Alumni reflections

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Jeffrey Dvorkin, shown here lighting up a Gauloise during his ‘dissolute’ days at LSE, reflects on his time in London during the early 1970s. He and sixteen other alumni share their reflections. Together, they tell the story of London across the decades from the unique perspective of the LSE student.

A.H.Somjee, Ph.D.
1951-1955

I was at LSE soon after the Second World War. I had corresponded with Professor Harold Laski, but by the time I arrived, Laski was gone and I was put under Professor Michael Oakeshott. What a change that was! Mild-mannered conservative Oakeshott did not conduct any seminars for graduate students during my time, and I settled for seminars given by Professor Karl Popper. When my PhD thesis was ready, Oakeshott, despite our differences, supported it. That was great!

Valerie Sims, MSW
Certificate in Social Science and Administration
1955-1956

I was a post-graduate student in the Social Science and Administration Programme at LSE in 1956.  I did my field work in East London and at the hospital for burn injuries in East Grinstead Sussex.  When i was in London, I had to walk across East London, which was flattened bombed ruins, with a footpath across the centre of the area.  Some mornings a person would be on the path greeting walkers and collecting small donations to help local East Londoners.  St. Paul’s  Cathedral was still there, because people had protected it during the Blitz.  St. Thomas’s Hospital was saved because people stayed on the roof and put out fires.  When I returned to Canada, completed my Master of Social Work degree at McGill University, I worked for the Federal Department of Labour in Ottawa.  I applied for a position in Labour  Marked Research, but the union representatives objected saying my social work background was not appropriate for an economics research role.  They asked our Director “Where did she go to college to earn this role?”  The Director looked down at my CV on his desk, looked up, and said, “London School of Economics”.  The Union reps. got up and walked out of the room, and I got the job.

Ranjan Roy
Dip. Mental Health
1966-1967

My story is less exciting than most. I lived and worked in London. I didn’t have to travel to a foreign country. I worked as a Senior Mental Heath Social Worker in the London Borough of Camden. Getting into my program was considered an achievement. Diploma in Mental Heath was the best program in Psychiatric Social Work in the UK. I was privileged to have some of the best minds in the world as our lecturer. Donald Winnicott is considered to be the father of child psychiatry. And, yes, he was one of my lecturers. I must note that racial tension in London at that time was very high. It was made worse by Enoch Powell’s speech which professed race riots that would turn London streets into rivers of blood. Dock workers marched in support of Powell. A year later, in 1968, we left England for Canada.

Charlotte Gray
Diploma, Social Administration
1969-1970

I arrived at LSE immediately after the big student uprising there, when the school was still a small, intellectually vibrant centre of leftwing thought, proud of its Fabian heritage. There were heated debates about everything — how to revolutionize the state education system, what was the role of government, whether the Stones or the Beatles were the best. We were proud that Mick Jagger was an alum (did he ever graduate?) At the same time, many books had been stolen from the library during the previous year’s upheavals, and the place was filthy. I recall one of my teachers (who went on to be a Labour cabinet minister) regarding me with horror when I submitted a paper to him about my experience working in a residential school for “juvenile delinquents,” as they were then called. “This is a nice story,” he snarled, “but where is the analysis of the economic infrastructure?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

Paul Conway
MSc Econometrics
1970

There was a pub, ‘The White Horse’, handily between the LSE and King’s Cross, a therapeutic spot because I was suffering a disconnect between what I knew and what the School assumed I knew when they admitted me. I went through the academic year in a state of elevated bewilderment from which I was rescued in the nick of time by the British Museum’s Reading Room and its collection of Econometrica. Otherwise London was cheap tickets to superb theatre enjoyed weekly, and the quietude of Wood Green. Later I forsook systems of simultaneous equations. Now I sing and tell stories.

Jeffrey Dvorkin
MPhil, International History
1970-1974

London in the early 70s was a time of great student turmoil and unrest. The European universities were going through some serious difficulties and the LSE also had its moments of discontent, although never quite to the same extent. That never seemed to affect the teaching staff who carried on with their usual sang-froid giving lectures and tutorials despite street demos going on right outside their classrooms out on Houghton Street. For North American students, it felt as though we were on the verge of something transformative and that we were witnesses to at least the possibility of change, even if the “imminent” revolution promised by a few student radicals never quite materialized.  

David Murphy
MSc International Relations 
1971-1972

My time at LSE was a time of labour unrest in the UK, marked particularly by miners’ strikes. From time to time we experienced power outages or “brown-outs”. This seemed to happen when I was working, ironically,  in the  (then) library “stacks” deep underground, and I and others had to be rescued by staff with flashlights. I had fallen in love with London theatre at this time – a passion that persists to this day- and on one memorable occasion when a performance at one of the theatres on the Aldwych had been disrupted by power outages, Alec Guinness sat on the stage afterward and chatted with us, by way of apology.  It was also the time of the war on the Indian subcontinent. I was the only Canadian living in the student residence, International Hall, and my room was surrounded by those of students from India, Pakistan and what became Bangladesh. The hallways, bar and TV room became tense places, and I found myself acting as an international peacekeeper.

Lt Col. (Retired) Don Gracey
BA Hons, MA, MSc Econ
1972-1973

I graduated with an MSc Econ (with distinction) in 1973. I found the program at LSE to be “rigorous” and spent the first term wondering if I could actually make it. I benefited hugely from the exposure to students from other countries and to a first rate teaching staff at LSE. It was my first time in London and I quickly came to understand the adage “He who is tired of London is tired of life”, but I also took the opportunity to travel widely through the UK and into Europe. I have often said and sincerely believe that LSE made me. Whenever I return to London I make a point of walking through LSE to trigger as many fond memories as I can.

Elspeth Sage
MSc Government, Soviet Politics
1976-1977

I completed my degree in 1977. I came to the school from Vancouver, Canada because many of the professors I studied as an undergrad were teaching at LSE. I was thrilled to be there because of the caliber of the tutors and my fellow students. I lived in a rundown flat in West Kensington for £20 a week. I saw the Sex Pistols play one of their first gigs at my local pub, the Nashville Rooms. They were emblematic of the social and political strife in London that ultimately led to Thatcher’s election in 1979.

Lynn Paris
LLB Law
1979-1980

In 1979 I was living in Carr Saunders residence for my second year. We had all lived through the previous “Winter of Discontent” under the Callahan government. In early 1979 Labour called a General Election. People stayed up all night at Carr Saunders to watch the results come in. On May 4, 1979 Britain had a female Prime Minister and the Thatcher years began. None of us knew then what a profound shift had occurred and that years later a whole generation would be known as Thatcher’s children.

Mike Chung
BSc (Econ) Accounting & Finance
1990-1993

As my final year at the LSE dawned, one alumnus of the School did the unbelievable: George Soros famously “broke the Bank of England” in September 1992 by shorting the British pound and pocketed one billion dollars for himself. Sterling was forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and it was an utter political embarrassment for the British government. Back then, I should have waited a few more days before buying British pounds for my final year in London. Soros would have done his thing and I would then have obtained a much more favourable exchange rate (sigh…)

Ed Farren
MSc Industrial Relations/International Business   
1992-1993

The LSE buzzed with the 1992 Maastricht Treaty becoming effective in 1993. IRA security alerts  and bombings presented challenges. Windsor Castle caught fire during Windsor Great Park Reading Week and the Queen opened Buckingham Palace to cover costs. Ray Richardson and David Marsden’s Industrial Relations and Michael Hodges and Louis Turner’s International Business lectures were electric. Yegor Gaidar, Yeltsin’s Acting Prime Minister, lectured on Russia’s economic reforms. Lord Cockfield, EU Commissioner for Internal Markets under Jacques Delors, spoke on his experiences. David Marsden asked about my experience at the School and I replied it was pricey but worth it at double the cost.

Benjamin Dachis
MSc Regional Science (Urban and Regional Economics)
2006 – 2007

The year before I arrived in London, terrorists bombed the underground and a bus. One of my American family members (who is a crazy conspiracy nut) even tried to give me a book called Londonistan. I left the book with them. I got to London and was amazed how life moved forward even after another attack at Glasgow airport and an attempted car bombing a few blocks away from my residence. What a difference with North America where we’d be jittery for years after something like that. The Brits really do “keep calm and carry on.” I loved it!

Diana Mendes
MSc International Relations 
2008-2009

I took up study at the LSE in the fall of 2008, as the US election campaign ramped up and as global financial markets melted down. I remember walking to classes down London streets and seeing signs for recession food and drink specials at restaurants and bars. I remember listening to newscasts and hearing words like ‘recession’ more and more. There was a sense of anxiety that permeated our classes as we all understood that our path out of LSE and into the labour market would not be the same as our predecessors.

Graeme Maitland
MSc Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation
2011-2012

One of my favourite pastimes at LSE was to take time every week, when I had about an hour between classes, to head up to the British Museum.  When I first came to London I was fourteen and my Dad took me there and still loves to remind me of the moment I turned a corner and was just blown away by seeing the Rosetta Stone, sitting right there.  I loved going back and turning that same corner and seeing it still there, surrounded by school children with that same look I had.  It’s still just as amazing.

Kevin Hempstead
MSc Theory and History of International Relations
2013-2014

In hindsight, studying International Relations in 2013 was as prophetic as a Cold War politics class in 1988. Themes like the strength of the EU and peace in Europe were challenged in the years after, in some cases proven wrong. During my year Nigel Farage spoke at the school, and was almost booed off stage. In my final months I interned at an immigration policy group, coordinating a policy launch, followed by a protest against the Home Office, and its stern Secretary Theresa May.

Even with our LSE education, 2016 Britain was unpredictable to 2013 eyes.

Arthur Kong
MPA Public & Economic Policy
2014-2016

My 2-years in the UK can only be defined by a whirlwind of political discourse, debate, and intense emotions. On the night of May 7, 2015, when the BBC announced the results to the exit poll, my jaw dropped to see that the Tories had defied all polls to win a stunning majority government. The defining quote of that evening that will forever be engrained in my mind was by former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdowne: “If this exit poll is right, I will publicly eat my hat on your programme.” A year later, on June 23, 2016, ironically also my birthday, my jaw dropped once again. Little did we know that we were living in an academic bubble: many, including myself, thought that the power of GDP figures and economic forecasts would most certainly cement a ‘Remain’ victory.

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