The Way I See It: ‘So many good things have come from my association with Rice’

Rice alumna and trustee Subha Barry ’85 won a Distinguished Alumni Award at the 2013 Laureates Celebration Dinner May 11. The column below is based on her acceptance speech.

I accept this wonderful honor with deep gratitude for all the blessings in my life, and Rice University is certainly among them. So many good things have come from my association with Rice, including this Distinguished Alumni Award.

Subha Barry

Subha Barry

I thank the Association of Rice Alumni Board for choosing me to receive this award, and I offer my congratulations to my fellow honorees. I am in awe of you all.

I come from a conservative Brahmin family from South India. Thanks to Rice, I got the opportunity to come to the U.S. for an advanced degree – the first girl in my family to do so. In giving me that scholarship, Rice honored my intellect and potential, regardless of my gender and ethnicity, and opened a world filled with possibilities that I have embraced.

I thank beloved Rice friends from my past: Greg Panagos, Peter Tellegan, Tahir Khurshid, Sabir Khan, Nirmala Ganapathy, Rob Royall, Abhay Padgaonkar and many others who took it upon themselves to teach a rookie like me the ropes – how to do laundry, use a dishwasher, do grocery shopping on a budget. The early lessons of inclusion were taught with love and I learned well.

Oprah Winfrey has said, “When you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.” This has certainly been true for me. I am grateful to my parents, who raised me to think for myself and encouraged my ambition; they allowed me to come to the U.S. in spite of tremendous backlash from family and community. My mother, Saroja Viswanathan, is here today – Amma, thank you. My father, who passed away in 1993, would have been so proud.

I am grateful to my two sets of Rice host parents from 30 years ago: Carole and David Smithwick and Harold and Beverly Green. And also to someone who was like a brother to me in those early Rice days – Frank Toffoletto, now a professor here at Rice in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. These people took me into their homes and hearts and surrounded me with their warmth and love every weekend, which kept me from missing the home I had left.

To a tall, brown-eyed, blond man named Jim Barry whom I met in my early days at Rice, who became my boyfriend and then my husband, I owe you a lifetime of gratitude for giving me so much love and two wonderful children – Tara, a 2010 Rice grad who is now in medical school, and Jay, a junior in high school. Jim, you have steadfastly been my biggest cheerleader, my constant mentor and my everlasting sponsor. My career thrived because you picked up every slack, you soothed my bruised ego so many times and you nursed my dreams as though they were your own. Thank you for being the wind in my wings.

To my mother-in-law, Carole Barry-Kronstein, and father-in-law, Martin Kronstein, thank you for your love and support and for raising such an amazing son.

Heartfelt thanks to my beloved sister, Sujatha Suresh, from San Francisco and my cousin, Subadhra Seetharaman, from New York for their cheerleading and support of me and to my friend Ruby Suresh and her husband, Suresh Vasu, who came all the way from New Jersey to celebrate this honor with me. Ruby, you, along with my Houston medical team of Dr. Cath Bollard and Vicky Torrano, are among the reasons I am still alive. Thank you for your healing touch.

For the many wonderful friends and supporters at Rice – Bill Glick, dean of our Jones Graduate School of Business, who sponsored me for this award, and Kevin Foyle, Kathy Collins, Sarah Whiting, David Leebron and Ping Sun, and many others, thank you for your enduring support.

To my professors from 30 years ago — Randy Batsell, Duane Windsor, Steve Zeff and Ed Williams– thank you for being stellar teachers and for being here today to celebrate with me.

Albert Schweitzer said that at times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. I thank Rice and everyone who has lighted that flame in me, and I hope to be a worthy torchbearer.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.