She has a trailblazing past as Suzanne Perles was a member of the first field hockey team in Princeton history before becoming part of the first class of women's Rhodes Scholars in 1976.
Perhaps it's appropriate that Suzanne Perles, Princeton's first woman Rhodes Scholar, first learned of Princeton from another Rhodes Scholar. "I watched Bill Bradley play in the 1964 Olympics," recalls Perles, Bill Bradley of course, in addition to winning a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics, is the Princeton basketball player, Rhodes Scholar, NBA Hall of Fame player with the New York Knicks, and U.S. Senator.
Perles' association with Bradley didn't end here. "I spent a year working in Bill Bradley's office," explains Perles, "it was part of the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. I was director of the National Issues Leadership Project [Bill Bradley was a Distinguished Leadership Scholar in 1997-98]. But I never told Bill about that," says Perles, laughing.
Perles was also on Princeton's first field hockey team. What was it like? "We had a real field," remembers Perles, "[Princeton] carpenters made some field hockey goals, and we used orange and black cheerleading skirts for uniforms. Merrily Dean was our first coach. Our first game was against Temple and we lost, 5-1. We played a lot of teacher's colleges, like Trenton State, schools that were training P.E. teachers."
The teams' budget, according to Perles, was supplied by alumni -- who, at the time, were all men. "I remember one elderly gentleman," says Perles, "who went to our games and invited us up to the Princeton Club."
Majoring in economics, Perles "pursued my academics 100 percent and played field hockey as often as I could. Sleep was not a priority and balance was not particularly important." Things worked out. Perles played and lettered in field hockey, and was named a Rhodes Scholar, though not in the usual fashion. The first Women Rhodes Scholars weren't named until 1976, so after graduation Perles "worked as an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, and started at Harvard Business School" before being named.
Did athletics play a role in her Rhodes Scholarship? She's not sure. "I've helped select Rhodes Scholars," in addition to being one herself, and she believes they're looking for people who are "healthy and active enough to lead productive lives. Athletics is one way of proving it, but everyone has their own interpretation." Heading to Oxford on the oceanliner Queen Elizabeth II with Harvard basketball player Alison Muscatine as a roommate and fellow Rhodes Scholar, she settled in at St. Anne's College, earning a D.Phil. in "three-plus years," says Perles.
Starting as a consultant for McKinsey and Co., Perles "did a few mergers" and moved on to become a founding partner at The Corporate Development Company, an advisory firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. She is now Managing Director.
Thirty-one years after playing her last field hockey game, Perles is still active in sports. "Sports have always been an important part of my life," asserts Perles, and she's lives it. An avid speed skater, Perles has won three North American Speed Skating Championships, setting new North American records in every long-track distance. She medaled in the Masters International Long Track Games, and has held both U.S. National and North American Short Track records in almost every distance. She's also a speed skating coach.
Perles' involvement doesn't end there. In 1989, "I helped start a program to revive speedskating in L.A.," says Perles. "In the city it's hard to find a safe place to play, and this is an opportunity to do that." Her goal is simply for kids to "just have fun," and the program has put "over 500 kids on the ice," according to Perles. Four former participants competed at the 2006 Olympics. Another, Rusty Smith, won a bronze medal in the 500 meter short track competition at the 2002 Games. Skaters like Smith "become role models" for kids currently in the program, an unexpected benefit.
Princeton's "a wonderful institution," concludes Perles. I'm "grateful to have had the opportunity to spend four years there."
— Stephen Eschenbach