Speaking from the back of a limousine, Stuart Weitzman, for whom the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design is being renamed to recognize his contributions, said that when President Amy Gutmann called to tell him the news, he was ecstatic.
“It’s not the kind of honor you turn down,” Weitzman said. “If I could still do somersaults, I would do one right now,” he told Gutmann.
In addition to renaming the school, the campus’ central plaza will be redesigned and renamed The Stuart Weitzman Plaza.
“What makes Stuart Weitzman so inspiring is his rock-solid belief that investing in people and education is the way to make a lasting impact,” Dean of the School of Design Frederick Steiner said in a press release. “From this day forward, the interrelated fields that comprise design at Penn will be linked with the name and design legacy of Stuart Weitzman. Our school is enormously proud to bear his name.”
If he doesn’t happen to be on campus, Weitzman, 78, can still find his name adorning high-end shoe stores all over the world, though he sold his controlling interest in the company a few years back. Shoes designed by Weitzman have been seen and sold everywhere from red carpets to Fifth Avenue to Walnut Street.
A 1963 graduate of Penn’s Wharton School, Weitzman keeps himself busy with a wide variety of projects. He’s involved in the development of a museum of Spanish-Jewish history in Madrid, is producing two Broadway shows for 2019 and serves on the board of the U.S. Olympics and Paralympic Foundation. Weitzman once represented the U.S. in table tennis at the Maccabiah Games.
For Weitzman, the renaming is the culmination of decades of support for his alma mater.
“I’ve been in love with Penn since I was there,” he said, adding that he attends reunions when he can. Weitzman, who now lives in Connecticut, is also one of the founders of the Penn Club in New York.
What has kept him involved more than anything, he said, has been his work as a lecturer at the university.
Initially, he was asked by longtime professor Barbara Kahn to give a lecture, and it was a success, as hundreds packed the hall.
“They loved the experiences I had in my career,” he said.
Now, for the past few years, Weitzman has led mentorship classes for Wharton students, taking on a handful per semester. He requires each of them to send him their CV and questions that allow him to properly assess his class and what they need to learn. That, too, has been a success, as the registration waitlist for his class grows each semester. Weitzman thinks it has something to do with his atypical teaching style; he’s “a little bit more fun and different than bankers coming in or lawyers coming in their three-piece suits,” he joked.
Another factor that may contribute to his class’ popularity: his ability to tell a story. One of his favorites is about his own student experience, when he was required to take a sociology class.
“Why the heck are they making us take in sociology?” he remembered wondering as he sat down in class on the first day.
The class was being taught by E. Digby Baltzell, the legendary sociologist best known for coining the term “WASP.” In the first class, Baltzell called a student to the front of the class and presented him with a basket of tennis balls and a large jug. “Fill the jug as tightly as you can,” Baltzell told the student, who shoved the balls in as compactly as he could.
Then Baltzell called up another student and produced a jug filled with sand from below the lectern. He told the second student to fill in the rest of the jug with the sand. Sure enough, cracks and crevices unfilled by the tennis balls were taken care of. He then pulled out a pitcher of water. The class laughed — they got it.
“You’re wondering why you’re here,” Baltzell told the class.
“Think of your life like this jug,” Weitzman recalled him saying. “And these tennis balls, that’s gonna be the work you’re gonna be doing, and they are gonna fill up most of your time. But just like that kid over there couldn’t do, you’re not gonna be able to fill up your life with just your tennis balls of work. And the sand, that’s gonna help. That’s your commitment to your community, that’s your hobbies, that’s your adventures, hey, that’s your sports if that what tickles you.
“But without the elixir of life, water, this jug wouldn’t have been filled and neither will your life be. The water, that’s your family, that’s your friends. And without all of this, you will never have a full life. So that’s why my course is a requirement for all of you, so that you know there’s more to life than just what you learn in the Wharton school.”
“I never forgot that,” Weitzman said.
Weitzman and his wife, Jane, president of the Jewish Book Council, will be in town at Congregation Rodeph Shalom on March 26 as part of the synagogue’s 90th anniversary celebration. They’ll be interviewed by Ivy Barsky, CEO and director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, for an event titled “If Our Shoes Could Talk and Where They Have Taken Us.”