08 Feb Alumni Board Scholar Profile: Q&A with 1984 Scholar Todd Breyfogle
Members of the Boettcher Scholar Alumni Board are interviewing their fellow Boettcher Scholars to help the community get to know one another better. The following Q&A was compiled by Boettcher Scholar Gergana Kostadinova.
Name: Todd Breyfogle
Scholar Year: 1984
College(s) and degree(s): Colorado College, B.A., Classics-History-Politics; Corpus Christi College, Oxford, B.A., M.A., Ancient and Modern History; Corpus Christi College, Oxford, M.St., Patristic and Modern Theology; University of Chicago, M.A., Ph.D., Social Thought
Tell us about your current work and how long you’ve been doing it. What is your favorite aspect of your current occupation?
As director of seminars for the Aspen Institute, I help successful people live more philosophically. I organize humanities-based leadership seminars in which a deep exposure to classic and contemporary texts from around the world help senior leaders become more self-aware and more self-correcting. It is rewarding to see how the liberal arts become immediately relevant to how people think about living and leading in a complex world. Ideas in action—what could be better?
What role has being a Boettcher Scholar played into where you are and what you are doing now?
The Boettcher Scholarship allowed me to attend Colorado College—something my family could never have afforded. And because of the scholarship, I had the freedom to pursue what I loved—interdisciplinary humanities. That freedom to pursue learning for its own sake, without immediate regard for its utility, has carried me on an extraordinary path to study at Oxford, to a PhD from the University of Chicago, to working with undergraduates (including Boettcher Scholars) at the University of Denver, to extending that love of liberal learning among senior adults who are making significant decisions all over the world.
Tell us about your involvement in activities, organizations or groups outside of work.
My activities outside of work are largely related to liberal education. I sit on the Senate of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the board of the Association of American Rhodes Scholars, the board of the Alliance for Liberal Learning, and chair the American Academy for Liberal Education. I still wear my academic hat, writing and lecturing, and my book On Creativity, Liberty, Love and the Beauty of the Law was published by Bloomsbury in 2017. Most important, I spend time with my wife, Allyson, and my children, Sarah and Lucus. I enjoy hiking, horseback riding, music and running.
The best advice for any career, and for living: know yourself. Ask yourself: How do I match my talents with one of the world’s greatest needs? Your career rarely matches what you studied in college. Pursue what you care about regardless of its perceived value. Ideally, undergraduate education gives you the time, space and freedom to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and to learn how to manage yourself. I work with a lot of CEOs and senior professionals who insist that they want people with integrity and purpose who can speak and write clearly, and who know how to learn.
If you could have dinner with one person or a few people from history, whom would you choose and why?
I’d have dinner with an improbable pair: Michel de Montaigne and Teddy Roosevelt, both of whom loved horses. Both were men of unusually creative intellects who found ways of combining deep contemplation with energetic action. Both were wonderful storytellers, so our conversations would be lively and witty—and would provide much-needed perspective on life today. Beyond wit, both me deepened their sense of proportion and grace as they passed through significant existential pain. Montaigne and TR also immersed themselves in the natural world and understood how connection to an order outside of ourselves helped inculcate a capacity for self-transcendence.