Earlier this fall, Claude Becker Wasserstein ’82 received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, one of France’s highest awards, at a ceremony at the French Embassy in New York.
Pinning the insignia, French Ambassador to the United States Gérard Araud said, “A thoroughly global citizen, Claude Wasserstein has demonstrated a strong commitment to international and Franco-American relations and has consistently served as a bridge between our two cultures. We are extremely pleased to recognize her outstanding achievements, which have been profoundly charitable and have served to foster dialogue between France and the United States.”
The ambassador highlighted organizations for which Wasserstein has been an active fundraiser — the Met International Council, WNET Channel Thirteen, The Brick Church Summer Steps Program, the King Hussein Cancer Center in Amman, Jordan, and the American Hospital in Paris Foundation, among others. He also noted that she has spearheaded many of her own initiatives aimed at enhancing various communities.
“Both the U.S. and France are profoundly lucky to have someone like you who is so devoted to supporting charitable efforts in the community,” Araud said.
Indeed, speak with Wasserstein for any length of time and the words you’ll hear most are “analysis,” “engagement” and “impact.” These are her hallmarks, her approach to life, her strategy in business.
They are qualities she cultivated as a young Parisienne at Sweet Briar College, as a foreign correspondent and producer for CBS News and as the wife of one of the most well-known bankers in the world. Wasserstein continues to rely on them now, as a mom looking at college options for her children and as an angel investor looking for ways to make the world a better place.
With an American mother and a French father, Wasserstein was raised in a cozy Paris suburb and the French school system. She arrived at Sweet Briar to connect with her American roots. Her mother had heard about the College from a women’s association in Paris, where it was known for its academic excellence and Junior Year in France program. The college’s small size and rural location provided a safe setting for a young woman to start discovering the world.
At Sweet Briar, Wasserstein majored in art history, minored in math, and learned to live with classmates from the Middle East and South America, as well as from Europe and across the U.S. “Sweet Briar was very diverse and cosmopolitan for a small women’s college,” she notes. “It’s a place where interesting people come together.”
She adds, “Coming from Paris, I had to adjust to a different culture and learn how to navigate among people with different backgrounds and perspectives. It broadened my own perspective and made me interested in the wider world.”
She also learned to ask questions and express her thoughts — something not encouraged in French schools — and subsequently built an international career on those skills. She spent 10 years at CBS News, notably covering the Iran-Iraq war from Dubai and the conflict in Northern Ireland from Belfast, before moving to New York as a producer for the program “48 Hours.” There, she covered societal issues, including poverty and gun control, and won an Emmy Award for a segment on health care.
What else did she get from her experience at Sweet Briar? She lists, rapid fire: deep friendships, analytical capabilities and an appreciation for art in all forms. “My art history teachers at Sweet Briar were more demanding than those for my master’s studies at the École du Louvre or Sorbonne,” she says. “They taught me to analyze works from multiple perspectives, to try to understand the influences, the context and the artists’ objectives. That approach served me as a journalist and continues to serve me as an investor.”
Wasserstein’s company, Fine Day Ventures, focuses on disruptive technologies with potential for positive social impact. To date, it has stakes in 50 startup companies, in fintech, medtech, energy and aerospace — “sectors with the potential to reshape the world,” as Wasserstein puts it.
Like most alumnae, Wasserstein realized how important Sweet Briar was to her when she heard about the planned closure. “I thought, ‘This can’t happen!’ Sweet Briar is such a great college and more relevant than ever today, when women are still fighting to be treated equally. It’s a place where your voice counts and you can help shape the future.”
A version of this article appeared in the fall 2017 issue of the Sweet Briar Alumnae Magazine.