Volunteer Profile: Caleb Hodes (GAL ’03)
April 15, 2021
Though nearly two decades and a few states removed from his student days, Caleb Hodes (GAL ’03) is as connected to NYU as ever. When asked why he stays involved he says, “For me, it’s the people I meet and the strong personal relationships I’ve made. I may not live in NYC but I can carry a part of it with me through these relationships and the activities our alumni community puts together. Because we are such a diaspora, I know I have a friend in so many cities across the globe, and can find someone to grab coffee or beer with when I’m there.”
Caleb is president of the NYU Alumni Club in Boston, known for their annual clambake and apple picking excursions, and is co-chair of the NYU Alumni Association’s Benefits and Services Committee, which leads planning efforts for the annual NYU Alumni Global Days of Service, an opportunity for alumni to make a difference by giving back to their communities in meaningful—and this year virtual and socially-distanced—ways. He earned his BA from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and, in true Gallatin fashion, was involved in a diverse array of activities during his time at NYU, among them Varsity Fencing, On Broadway at NYU, and Sci-Fi Club. He went on to earn his MBA from Carnegie Mellon University and has built a successful career as an entrepreneur in the eCommerce and retail space, and since moved from entrepreneurship into Product Management.
Tell me about taking NYU Alumni Global Days of Service online for the first time? What can alumni expect and why should they participate?
The pandemic has changed the way we live and operate day-to-day, and community service has been impacted severely. In the past, Global Days of Service has thrived on in-person activities, but reality does not permit this when we risk further spread of the virus.
So this year is an entirely new approach to our Global Days of Service initiative. While it can feel a bit uncharted, the truth is that we have already successfully given to our communities through virtual means in previous years. The big difference is that we will be fully remote this year.
Probably the first thing to realize is that we can all serve our communities virtually, and safely, without adding to anyone’s Zoom fatigue. Remote activities can include service that is offline but performed from your home, or distanced by individually doing an Earth Day cleanup. And even those who have had too many virtual meetings, will find value in joining a workout class to raise funds, or find meaning in coaching high schoolers through interviews and resume prep.
The important goal is for us, as global citizens, to participate and to give back to our communities. And we have put together numerous ways for everyone to take part in a safe manner. The difficult part for us will likely be tracking our overall contribution, but in the end that’s a vanity metric. I am OK with under-reporting our impact as long as I know that we are making a difference.
How did you first become involved as or interested in becoming an NYU alumni volunteer?
Long ago when I returned to Boston from NYC, I had a sense that I was missing something. There was a connection I made to NYC, its institutions, its culture, and the people I met and knew at NYU. I wanted to reconnect with that experience and with people.
There was a small alumni club when I first returned and I volunteered to help out, ultimately taking the lead as other volunteers moved to other cities. I eventually left Boston for grad school and when I returned the club was gone. So the Alumni Office helped me start one up once again. I think by that point I was feeling a bit tenacious, too.
What’s your proudest (or most fun) moment from your time leading the NYU Alumni Club in Boston?
I can think of many, however, the first that comes to mind was the creation of our annual Summer Clambake, which is technically a lobster boil but “clambake” has a ring to it. This signature event was the culmination of so much. For the longest time I wanted to do some sort of deep New England summer tradition and bake it into who we are as a club.
This event represents the realization of a club tradition, but even more importantly it represents a sign of maturity for our club because of what it took to get here. First and foremost, it required building a dedicated group of volunteers who are as excited and motivated as myself—if not more. Finally, it required building enough momentum with our regional alumni in order to support larger events like this.
I was proud because it was our volunteers who really put the clambake together. At this point in the club’s evolution I became less important for individual events as I worked on the broader calendar year and club’s direction. So instead, for the clambake, I helped with promotion, liaising with the Alumni Office, making sure our volunteers had what they needed and that they were empowered. I also chipped in with some manual labor and setup. The big hat tips go to folks like Judith Underwood and Ian Baldwin (am I allowed to drop names?) who arranged for the site each year, found an amazing caterer, and ensured we had drinks to pair with our lobster.
The end result has been one of our largest events, which has grown significantly year by year. Of course, due to the pandemic we did not have it last year, and I am wary about this year. However, it is something I am looking forward to rebooting once we can safely have in-person events.
Why do you stay involved with NYU? Why would you encourage other alumni to get involved?
An NYU alumnus is someone with a shared experience, inquisitive mind, and a cultural well to draw from for meaningful conversation, connection and inspiration for moving forward in life and living.
I stay involved for the running team, Third Wednesdays, Global Days of Service (this April 17–25!), and our annual apple picking excursion. I also stay involved so that other alumni have these opportunities. Without our volunteers, none of this happens.
I encourage other alumni to get involved for these same reasons, and to show each of them that your NYU experience does not end at graduation but can continue to thrive and grow.
Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?
Yes. I’m a Gallatino, and my senior year Andre De Shields taught a course on Shakespeare. He took us into more obscure works and history, and he encouraged us to approach the pieces with an entirely different perspective in order to extract and modernize what we can learn from Shakespeare’s plays. I still remember one student’s final project where she performed Shylock’s monologue first as the antagonist, then again, but as a sympathetic character dragged through a mockery of a trial. The broader lesson was to shift your perspective and you can shed a whole new light onto an old idea or problem you thought you knew.
What is your favorite NYU memory?
I easily have a few. Antonio Rutigliano was my advisor and taught a few of my courses. Every year he brought together his medievalist classes to do a read-through/performance of Dante’s Divine Comedy. These were usually hosted somewhere with the right atmosphere like Grace Church, or the Cathedral of St.John the Divine, and they lasted deep into the night. Each class had one of the books—Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso—and groups within each class had their own Cantos to either read or perform however they wished. I have a deep appreciation for Dante to this day.
There’s also the time I was studying abroad in Florence and one of my professors, another medievalist, Jill Claster, took us on a tour of Assisi where we visited the Basilica of St. Francis. The Franciscan who gave us a tour was able to take us “off the tourist path,” including balcony views of the valley and up to the Papal apartments. No, we did not get access to those apartments, but it was kind of cool to be so close to them.
What is your favorite:
- Food? Anything I can share over a good conversation with people.
- Book? Growing up, I was (and still am) a fan of Tove Jansson through her Moomintroll series. As an adult I was introduced to her collection, The Summer Book, which is a series of vignettes around a child and her grandmother living on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. Her writing style was accessible and immersive.
- TV Show and/or Movie? Schitt’s Creek. We’re re-watching the series and it’s our comfort show, but it’s also moving and beautiful at the same time.
- Song and/or Musical Artist? Whatever is live! As a good Gallatino, I love a good show. As for tastes, I’m all over the place and will play random mixes off Spotify.
- Podcast? I’ve been listening to a lot of Shane Parrish’s Knowledge Project on mental models.
- Place in New York City? I used to love going to Cafe Vivaldi in the West Village. There was something about its atmosphere I enjoyed that slowed the city down, and made you feel like you found a little nook hidden away in the world. I always took visitors there for some coffee and a delicious Italian cheesecake.
- Social distancing activity? I have a monthly book club over Zoom with friends who have moved across the country. It’s a great way to connect and take a deep dive into so many topics inspired by our reading.