BARUCH VALEDICTORIAN ELS RUTTEN, AGE 55: URGES CLASSMATES TO LIVE LIFE AS AN ADVENTURE
Video of Valedictory Address
“I’m not brilliant,” Els Rutten announces. “I’m proof you can excel and not be brilliant.” It’s a debatable point, but it’s what Rutten, who graduates on May 31st as Baruch College’s 55-year-old valedictorian, plans to tell her classmates. She will also urge them to live their lives “with an open mind” and a spirit of adventure.
Born and reared in small town in the Netherlands to a conservative Catholic family, Rutten studied social work at the Akademie De Horst Driebergen, but her adventurous spirit would not let her rest. She came to the U.S. in 1973 and never looked back. En route to a green card, she worked at every sort of odd jobs, from cashier to au pair to cleaning lady. “I need to breathe New York air in order not to suffocate. I need the adrenalin,” she says.
Els first enrolled at Baruch in 1976, studying off and on until ’84 when she dropped out. The “happy chaos” of life simply overtook her. By then she also had a demanding job at an ad agency which didn’t permit the kind of intense immersion in the academic life that she thought her schoolwork deserved. Soon, she was surrounded by the “creative people” she cherishes. Years passed, until one day walking along Lexington Avenue, she spotted Baruch’s handsome Newman Vertical Campus. Wandering up to the admissions office, she had the good fortune to meet a friendly and helpful counselor who looked up her long-ago grades and urged Rutten to return to Baruch and finish her degree. With the help of Elaine Cataletto of the College’s Center for Advisement and Orientation, Rutten was able to reclaim her long-ago credits and finish her degree--in the process compiling a near-perfect 3.976 GPA.
Now a resident of West Hampton Beach Long Island, Els Rutten loved being back at Baruch. (“Whoosh . .. it’s like the United Nations”) and loved, has always loved, being in New York. Her field of study changed from accounting to computer science to entrepreneurial management as she looked for the most efficient way to complete her degree. “I’m a numbers person but also a people person,” she says and adds that she’s considering going on for an MBA in human resource management.
Ebullient and upbeat, Els describes herself as a person for whom “the glass is always half full.” Married to her “soul mate,” she has recently helped him complete a documentary film on rowing. She is enthusiastic about the film, De Perfecte Haal (The Perfect Stroke). But then again, she is enthusiastic about everything life has to offer.
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