Meet the Lawrences by David McKay Wilson

They’re a bicoastal family that loves to discuss movies at the dinner table.

Karen Lawrence, her husband, Peter, and their sons, Andy and Jeff, celebrate birthdays with chocolate peanut-butter ice cream cakes from Baskin-Robbins. Together, they light the candles for Chanukah, and on Christmas morning, they hunt for a new ornament, which this year will be squirreled away somewhere in the family’s new digs—the President’s House at Sarah Lawrence.

“Finding the ornaments is a little different now because we’re older,” says Andy Lawrence, 25, a 2004 Dartmouth graduate who works in an executive program at McMaster-Carr, a large, privately held company in Los Angeles. “We can keep the tradition alive. My dad will be happy.”

As Karen Lawrence settles in as the College’s 10th president, her husband and sons are adjusting to the Lawrence’s new home in Westchester. Two family members will keep a presence on the West Coast—Andy, who can see the Pacific from his deck in Manhattan Beach, and Peter, a prominent surgeon and director of the UCLA Gonda Vascular Center at the UCLA Medical Center.

On the East Coast, Jeff, a 2007 Amherst graduate, is studying for his Ph.D. in comparative literature at Princeton.

For now, Peter Lawrence will remain at UCLA. But he’ll be around on weekends, taking the red-eye from LAX Thursday nights three times a month and returning early Monday morning. It won’t be much different from the past four years, when Peter stayed in his L.A. apartment three nights a week to avoid the traffic-choked, multi-hour commute between UCLA and the family’s home in Irvine.

“Karen and I have had a wonderful long-term relationship, and it will endure this,” he says. “At the level of administration that we’ve both worked at for the past few years, it’s hard to move.”

When Karen’s presidency was announced, several medical schools and hospitals contacted Peter about a position in New York, but so far none has been comparable to his work at UCLA. It’s a common challenge for high-powered couples looking to take their professional lives to the next level.

Andy recalls that his mother had her hands full raising two boys whose lives were focused on competitive sports—Andy played basketball and Jeff played tennis. Through it all, she was able to maintain a balance between her professional life and time at home.

“My mom is the best sport in the world, so fun and easygoing,” says Andy.

Andy and Jeff both majored in comparative literature, Karen’s field, but neither felt pressured to do so. Andy found inspiration from a Dartmouth French professor. Jeff says he developed an interest in literature through osmosis, growing up in Salt Lake City’s academic and cultural circles and enjoying the family’s weekly analysis of the most recent movie they’d seen. But talks with his mother, a James Joyce scholar, didn’t hurt. As a high school junior, he asked his mother about The Dubliners, the Joyce book he was reading.

“I suddenly realized I could talk to someone who was so knowledgeable and insightful—and who happened to be my mother!” says Jeff. “From that time on, I’ve made up for years of not discussing literature with my mom. Now we talk all the time about books.”

As Karen Lawrence begins her tenure as president, her family is developing a strategy to address those seemingly never-ending questions about the president’s surname.

“My dad suggested we look at a genealogy database to see if we could find a common ancestor,” says Jeff Lawrence. “I’m thinking of a more poetic response: The Greeks believed that a person’s name revealed an ultimate truth about his or her fate, so the presidency at Sarah Lawrence was not justa perfect fit for Mom—it was destiny.”

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