Ari Schonbrun was the keynote speaker at the Barney School of Business Fall 2015 Sophomore and Junior Lift-Off on Sept. 3. An executive at Cantor Fitzgerald investment bank in New York City, Schonbrun happened to be waiting for an elevator on the 78th floor in Tower One of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck the building during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. What happened next transformed Schonbrun in many ways that he describes in his book, Miracles and Fate on 78.
Schonbrun shared his inspiring story with 150 students, faculty, and staff members. He described helping a co-worker with third-degree burns get downstairs from the 78th floor and eventually to a hospital emergency room. Of the 662 Cantor Fitzgerald employees on the upper floors in the World Trade Center that day, only four survived. Everyone else was killed. Schonbrun reflected on why he survived…was it simply luck or something more? His experiences that day revealed the power of personal connections that bonded rather than polarized people from one another.
His motivational speech helped students think in a different way about priorities and balance in the context of making the most of their college experience, defining success, and making their own personal commitments to becoming competent, confident, and connected. “Mr. Schonbrun had a profound impact on many of us,” said junior Amanda Lewis. “I thought that if he could survive 9/11 and use his experience to motivate us, then we could look inside ourselves to accomplish anything. By the end of his talk you could tell that the students, and even the faculty were fired up for this semester.”
Following the Lift-Off program, students had lunch and socialized with Schonbrun, faculty, staff, and each other.
Schonbrun serves on the board of Strength to Strength, a non-profit that provides services for victims of terrorism and their families. As part of their service and social responsibility activities this year, the Barney Leadership Council student organization will work with Strength to Strength on a mentoring program for high school age terrorism victims.