Jonathan Kempner, President Emeritus of TIGER 21, Counselor to the Harvard Law School Project on Disability, and Scholar-In-Residence at Winthrop House, encouraged Aspire alumni to live a life full of integrity, exploration, and hard work during his Career Week session in May, 2023.
Kempner emphasized the importance of experiences – both personal and professional. He encouraged traveling, networking, and broadening their horizons.
“Your 20s are the years where you establish the predicate for your success,” he said. “You have to put in your hard work at the beginning [as] an investment in your career.”
Alongside his lessons, Kempner stressed that international travel and meeting others outside of your community are important educational experiences.
“You just learn so much and get insights about how other people live,” he said.
Kempner explained that integrity is paramount in all you do and encouraged always erring on the side of doing what’s right.
He assured alumni that being honest about what they can achieve and fulfilling their commitments will improve their confidence and perception of themselves. In his experience, others notice this attribute.
Kempner enjoyed his time with our alumni and remarked that his interactions with them have always been positive. He has even personally connected with a few over the years and had individual mentoring conversations.
“[I find it very impressive] that they would be ambitious enough to participate in this, to spend their time [here regardless of] what time zone they [are in],” he said.
Kempner strives to make connections and understand the people around him. Whether it was a connection to their country, culture, or studies, he exhibited care and a desire to make everyone feel a sense of belonging during his Career Week session.
Pursuing Opportunities as a First-Generation American
Much of Kempner’s advice comes from his own experiences. As the son of immigrant parents – one a Polish Holocaust survivor and the other a Lithuanian immigrant – Kempner grew up in Detroit as a first-generation American.
“It had an impact on my ambitions,” he said. “I think that culture – the emphasis on education, the emphasis on succeeding – definitely had its roots in my parents’ background, because they came here to the States with [essentially] nothing. They worked hard to do well, and then [I] took their example.”
From the moment he began working, Kempner worked hard. He took on as many opportunities and different job experiences as he could and earned enough money to independently pay for his education. He was able to relate to the Aspire alumni, who are all first-generation college students, with this experience.
Kempner graduated from the University of Michigan in three years, and he described his fourth year as the most educational year of his life. During this time, he worked as a substitute teacher in the inner city of Detroit, was the youngest paid member of the McGovern for President Committee, and traveled around the world for six months. He felt these work and travel experiences helped him become a more well-rounded individual with new perspectives.
After attending law school at Stanford University, Kempner worked in various low-level, modest jobs where he gained great exposure before becoming President Emeritus of TIGER 21. With almost 1,300 members, this peer advisory organization creates a space for wealth creators to learn and reflect upon investing, life, and family.
In 2019, Kempner spotted an ad for Harvard’s Advanced Leadership Initiative (ALI), a program for successful individuals who wanted to devote more time to making an impact on society. Kempner and 49 others were accepted into the program out of the 750 who applied that year.
“It took me 50 years to get into Harvard,” he joked.
Becoming a Mentor
While in the ALI fellowship, Kempner got his taste for mentorship. He was able to land a position at the Winthrop House as the Scholar in Residence and mentored the students in the dorms. Angel Gallinal, one of Kempner’s fellows and an Aspire Institute mentor, asked if he would be willing to engage with our organization and mentor an Aspire leader himself. He agreed and was connected with Septiani Pratiwi, a student from Jakarta, Indonesia.
Kempner found Septi to be incredibly bright and inquisitive, and he thoroughly enjoyed their mentorship.
“It was a very nice, fruitful relationship,” he recalled. “She was very respectful, [and] I really liked her a lot. She seemed ambitious in a very reasoned way [and] picked my brain on a lot of questions. It was, in my mind, an ideal mentor-mentee relationship.”
Since then, Kempner has continued to be a valuable mentor to our Aspire alumni.
Continuing to Seek Out Opportunities and Variety
This year, Kempner will return to Winthrop House and enter a new role as a Career Fellow at the Office of Career Success at Harvard, where he will assist undergraduate students in setting themselves up for success.
He is still involved with TIGER 21 part-time and helps in planning the annual conference. In addition to this, he works as chairman of multiple for-profit and non-profit organizations. One such organization belongs to his sister and is named the Ciesla Foundation, after his mother’s maiden name. In the coming years, he plans to keep his eyes open for new opportunities.
“I must say, I really enjoy having various things cooking,” he said. “That’s why, when opportunities like Aspire come up, I always grab those because it’s contributing in a great way, and also it lends variety to my life.”
When giving advice to those seeking to be successful in their own lives, Kempner encouraged them to pursue every opportunity they could.
“[Be] honest and have realistic expectations; If you want something, give it a try,” he said. “The worst that can happen is you get a ‘no’ for the short term, but it might pave the way for a ‘yes’ in the mid or long term.”