By Carol Keocheckian '81
When John Sladek was in the fourth grade, his teacher challenged him to achieve greatness. “I only hope,” she told him, “that you will live long enough to live up to everything that everyone rightfully expects of you.”
The young student took her words to heart, and they became a driving force in his life. Throughout his career, CLU’s sixth president has striven for excellence, not only in his field of neuroscience but also in the humanities, music and the arts. A veritable modern-day renaissance man, he is a nationally recognized scientist, dynamic administrator, talented musician and gifted visionary.
"My parents believed a college education is the highest level attainable and the key to achieving a satisfying life style."
In addition to his fourth-grade teacher, Sladek credits his parents, John and Maria, for setting a high standard of achievement and for instilling in him a high regard for academia. “They believed a college education is the highest level attainable and the key to achieving a satisfying life style,” he recalls.
Born in Chicago, the new president is the product of a Midwestern “mixed marriage.” “My mother was a Catholic, who traced her Italian lineage to royalty, and my father was a Czechoslovakian Lutheran, whose father had immigrated to the U.S. in 1888,” Sladek states.
Neither side of the family would accept the relationship, so in 1932, the couple eloped. His paternal grandmother finally took his parents in, and he grew up in a Czech suburb, one of Chicago’s 150 ethnic neighborhoods.
Sladek, a talented saxophonist, recognizes that he inherited his emotional side and his musical talent from his mother’s family. “My maternal grandfather was an accomplished musician and composer,” he explains.