Leo's Nobel Ceremony

The date was for December 10, 2007. The place was the University of Minnesota. I got an invitation for attending the ceremony for Nobel Prize for Leonid Hurwicz - my old professor. It was a chance of a lifetime to be a part of a ceremony of the presentation of somebody getting a Nobel Prize. I could not let it go. On the other hand, the very next day, my students were having there final exam. We have strict rules about not being present in your own final exam. So, I was reluctant to make that trip to frigid Minnesota in the middle of winter. I have lived there long enough to know how cold it can get! It is bloody cold.

Rebecca encouraged me to go. "I think ITAM would not object if you say you are going to be at a Nobel Prize presentation." And she was right. It was not difficult. But to get somebody (who had to be a professor) to administer the exam turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated. Fortunately, one of professors in the Business School had me as a supervisor of her Masters Thesis was available. That was a bit of luck. So, I was off....

I could not get a direct flight to Minneapolis as Northwestern has stopped flying direct to Mexico City. So, it had to be a two hop flight. I chose my hop through Washington, DC. My logic was that Washington does not get much snow during that time of the year, so the chances of my flight being disrupted would be low. The other option was to go through Chicago.

It turned out to be a wise choice. Had I gone through Chicago, I would have been stranded there - long enough to miss the ceremony. There were several people who had that happen to them. I could not afford that. Moreover, I had to come back, grade my papers and return them within 48 hours. A delay by a day would screw everything up!

Now if I could only swing a front row seat to the event. It turned out that I could! Wendy Williamson, the Economic Research Library's librarian-in-chief (it is a joke as she is the ONLY person who works there!), my good friend, and the only member of my thesis shadow committee, was willing to swing that for me! If you have friends in high places, you can make ANYTHING happen. Here is what I mean by getting a front row seat. It is the Orchestra Section, Row C. What about rows A and B? There was NOBODY in them. So, I literally had the front row seat.


The other big help from my long lost friend but found again after 25 years (another story) - Estelle. She was willing to bring me from the airport to her house and let me stay there AND bring me to the ceremony despite her LONG hours of work, scheduling problems and everything else. I am truly blessed with good friends - REAL good friends.

The ceremony started at 9:30 am sharp. The event was synchronized with the events in Stockholm. Swedish royalty was at hand in Stockholm. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra played soulful Rachmaninov (Trio élégaique) among others. It might have been appropriate to play Wagner but it would have been politically incorrect to play Richard Wagner who mused: "With all our speaking and writing in favour of the Jews' emancipation, we always felt instinctively repelled by any actual, operative contact with them." And here ALL three economics prize recipients were Jewish!

A fanfare acknowledged each newly awarded laureate, who then shook hands with the King of Sweden and paused for recognition on the regal blue carpet emblazoned with the Nobel 'N.' First, the two other recipients got their prizes in Stockholm. Then the spotlight came to Ted Mann Hall where Leo and his family was at hand on stage. The evening ceremony was sent by satellite and projected on a screen seven time zones away. The Swedish Ambassador to the US was at hand to give Leo his medal.

We all got up and clapped - especially me, Rosalinda and Myra - two of my Mexican classmates (who both live in Washington DC - working at the World Bank and the IMF). Three of us started shouting BRAVO; BRAVO and clapped and clapped. Tears of joy rolled down my eyes. Three of us united in a tight hug. At LAST, Leo got his very very well deserved prize. He should have had it earlier - but - at least he DID get it.

Then, the ceremony ended. There was a long line to congratulate Leo. Fortunately, I was on the front row. So, I managed to drag Rosalinda and Myra with me. Then, we managed to get the photo of our lifetimes. It came out together with the U of M Alumni Association President (the blue eyed woman to the left) and of course Leo and his wife.


Later that evening I was sipping tequila as Estelle's as I watched the news. Some woman has won a million dollars in a lottery. Her story was telecast for more than a minute. Leo's ceremony got exactly 12 seconds. This tells you where the priorities lie in the US.


Postscript: On May 26, 2008, Leo Hurwicz visited his almost empty office for the last time with his wife and eldest daughter. Wendy described how sad she felt in that office after emptying out all the stuff. She found an incredible collection of stuff (including my exam booklet from the Fall of 1979 - my first quarter there!). Leo never threw anything away! Leo sat there in his chair for the last time in front of the blackboard - full of stuff that he had used for explaining stuff to students. At the top left, there are some Chinese characters with "save" and "do not erase" written on them. These kinds of blackboards no longer exist in other professors' room - they are from a very bygone era where Leo belonged - still firmly connected to the realities of today through his theory of incentive compatibility.