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06/11/91

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Senior Mark Oldman: 'Find what fires your imagination'

STANFORD -- Opportunity may knock just once, but that's more than enough for graduating Stanford University senior Mark Stanford Oldman of Martinsville, N.J. In fact, instead of waiting for that knock, Oldman is more likely to send opportunity a letter declaring his interest and availability. As a result, Oldman, who earned close to a straight-A average in his English major, packed a lot besides studies into his four college years. He spent a term at Oxford, where he rowed for Magdalen College and was a member of the wine-tasting team; served a judicial internship at the U.S. Supreme Court; and, accompanying a noted constitutional scholar, made a brief trip to Romania, where he met both government officials and street demonstrators. "It's important to find what really fires your imagination, and then pursue it with passion," Oldman said. He applies this philosophy in a variety of areas. In the summer after his sophomore year, an enthusiastic letter of application won him what many young people would consider the perfect summer job: an internship with Music Television (MTV), where he reviewed video resumes sent in by those aspiring to be on-air personalities. An interest in the vintner's art led him to seek out the wine-tasting team at Oxford, which is afforded "half-blue" status -- the equivalent, Oldman said, of junior varsity. He found the first practice session a bit intimidating, filled as it was with tony Oxford sports throwing around such terms as "astringent" and "buttery with a tinge of asperity," but he bluffed his way through a blind tasting and was accepted as a team member. When he returned to Stanford, he and classmate Alex Hoye founded the Stanford Wine Circle, which Oldman described as an "anti-snob club." The club's goal, he said, is to "empower amateur wine drinkers to have confidence in restaurants and not be intimidated by snooty sommeliers." Moderation is stressed and club members are carefully screened to make sure they are over 21.

Assisting a 'modern-day James Madison'

The chance to get an intimate look at Romania in the midst of revolutionary change was a direct result of Oldman's willingness to reach out to strangers. Leafing through a copy of Life magazine in January 1990, while studying at Stanford's Program in Oxford, he came across an article on Albert Blaustein. The professor at Rutgers Law School was described as a "modern-day James Madison" for his work in helping to draft the constitutions of more than 40 countries. Intrigued, Oldman wrote to Blaustein, asking if he could work for him during the summer. He soon received Blaustein's favorable reply, along with a suggestion that he begin his work immediately by researching the constitutional histories of British Commonwealth countries at London's Commonwealth Trust. He did that, and then spent last summer serving as Blaustein's research assistant, writing constitutional chronologies and bibliographies for the 1990 edition of Blaustein's Constitutions of the Countries of the World. Last fall, Oldman was one of the Supreme Court's two judicial interns. There his duties included researching legal issues and data for Chief Justice William Rehnquist's speeches. At night, he said, he would hole up in the court's library and read about constitutional law, an experience he called "inspiring." The experience confirmed his career inclination, and he plans to attend law school after returning to Stanford next year to complete a master's degree in English.

Journey to Romania

It was while he was at the Supreme Court that he received a call from Blaustein, who said that he was flying to Bucharest for a week to help the Romanians draft their new constitution and wanted Oldman to go with him. Anticipating such a trip, which he and Blaustein had discussed during the summer, Oldman had already secured, through Stanford's Undergraduate Research Opportunities office, a grant covering air-travel expenses from the university's Center for Economic Policy Research. In Bucharest, Oldman accompanied Blaustein to his meetings with parliament members. He also, one afternoon, ventured out alone to join a large group of protesters marching down the city's main boulevard. He later learned, he wrote in an essay about the event, that the demonstrators were trade union members who were protesting the government's decision to devalue the currency and thus triple the cost of most goods. Conspicuous in his business suit and carrying a camera, Oldman caught the attention of a few protesters, who cornered him and began berating him in Romanian. They thought, he assumed, that he was a government agent. Desperate to get away, he reached into his suit and pulled out an American-flag pin he had bought weeks before in the Supreme Court's gift shop. He gave the pin to one of the men, shook his hand, told him to keep up the good work and escaped into the crowd before the bewildered Romanians had time to recover from their surprise. -mas-

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