Alumni Awards: Sam Altman '03

Alumni Awards: Sam Altman '03

Tech entrepreneur Sam Altman ’03 was honored during assembly on Friday, October 6, with the Outstanding Alum Award. The award was presented by JBS Alumni Board president Stephanie Park Zwicker ’94.

“Sam was selected because of his pioneering work in the tech world,” Stephanie said of the OpenAI CEO. “His ability to foresee trends, his sense of the global challenges that face us, and his social conscience have earned him the distinction of being one of the most influential and intriguing people of our time.”

Following the award presentation, Sam stayed on stage to participate in a student-led discussion with Charlie Desai ’25, Story Kummer ’25, and Caitlyn O’Shea ’25 about the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence (in particular, his company’s revolutionary chatbot, ChatGPT) and the profound societal impact it will have. 

Altman also spoke about the impact of his Burroughs teachers, in particular retired computer science teacher Georgeann Kepchar, who believed in the future of AI when Sam was just a student.

“She won’t remember this, but Ms. Kepchar was like this unbelievably important force in my life,” Sam said. “We had a 2nd period class. I would show up a little early, and we would talk, and we talked about AI. I graduated 20 years ago, so, 20 years ago, we would talk about where this was all going in technology.”

Later in the interview, he reiterated his belief in the value of teachers, emphasizing their irreplaceable role in shaping young minds.

“It’s difficult to overstate the impact that good teachers have, and, again, I think Burroughs — among a lot of great things — has just exceptional teachers,” he said. “Although AI will do a great job at being an AI tutor and teaching you to do math or whatever else, it’s not — at least not for a long time — going to replace the human element of what great teachers do. I hope that with these tools to give teachers more time to do that magic human teacher thing, more kids will be able to get that.”

The conversation continued after assembly with various student groups, including Girls Who Code, the Computer Science Club, and The World. Later that day, Sam spoke to Burroughs’s adult community during an evening presentation hosted by current parent and trustee Bobby Dunn ’94 (full video below). Photos from both events can be found on Mr. Newman’s SmugMug page.