has always considered Jane Goodall one of her heroes. When the renowned
primatologist spoke on campus last spring, Strandquist could barely
contain her excitement. She was so moved by meeting Goodall that
she spent last fall in Africa studying the environment. "Jane Goodall
began her work in Gombe (Africa) at a young age, with very little
science background, yet she made some of the most amazing observations
about primates," says Strandquist, a junior and an environmental
studies major. "(Her speech) was probably the most inspiring I have
ever heard because it focused not on scientific goals, but on following
Goodall deliver the Convocation for Honors address, Strandquist
says she was more determined than ever to pursue a career in environmental
kind of connection is exactly what Elon administrators have in mind
each year when they bring some of the world's most prominent leaders
and scholars to speak on campus. Yet it's more than exposure to
leading scientists and former presidents and prime ministers that
makes these visits so special; it's the common intellectual discussion
that occurs in classrooms and throughout campus as a result.
associate professor of English, says these events help bring the
campus community together to debate important issues of the day.
One of those issues is race, which was the subject of the March
13 address by Cornel West, a Princeton University professor who
discussed his best-selling book,"Race Matters."
"It's a centering
that we don't always get," Braye says. "Someone like Cornel West
gets us focused on issues that we weren't thinking about. The issues
can give us a common dialogue."
In 14 years
as Elon's director of cultural programs, George Troxler has arranged
the visits of some of the biggest names in art, science, literature
and politics. During the past two years alone that A-list has included
Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan; Ehud Barak, former
prime minister of Israel; Lech Walesa, former president of Poland;
Queen Noor of Jordan; and former President George H.W. Bush.
world leaders is an important part of a liberal arts education,"
says Troxler. "Someone like Jane Goodall challenges us to be of
service, to be involved. And a challenge from Jane Goodall to do
something is really special."
Each year Elon
selects speakers who can offer new perspectives on timely issues
and provoke discussion. For example, in January 2002, Barak spoke
during some of the fiercest fighting between Palestinians and Israelis.
At the 2002 fall Convocation, Bhutto made a plea for democracy around
the world on the eve of controversial elections in her homeland.
"What are the
burning issues that we are facing as a nation that we would like
to have addressed on our campus?" Troxler says. "After September
11, we are interested in a perspective that we were not before."
after 9/11, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian David McCullough
spoke at Elon of America's resiliency and ability to endure hardship.
Several weeks later, Walesa reflected on the terrorist attacks in
his address at fall Convocation.
speakers discuss often become fodder for lively classroom discussions.
Associate Provost Nancy Midgette can't recall a speaker who has
not generated that kind of engagement. "Students have an opportunity
to see and hear from someone who has something to say of relevance
to one or more classes they are taking," she says. "Our faculty
are very adept at shaping assignments and discussion around the
issues that speakers bring."
Much of this
activity occurs in The Global Experience course, which is part of
Elon's liberal arts curriculum called General Studies. When Bhutto
visited campus, Braye accompanied his Global Experience class to
an informal question-and-answer session with the former prime minister.
The students had researched the political struggles in Pakistan
and were prepared to ask insightful questions. Having a front-row
seat to high-caliber speakers is a moving experience for students.
to explain, but students act differently after they've seen and
heard these people," says Braye, who directs the General Studies
program. Like Bhutto, many speakers hold question-and-answer sessions
before their major address.
"It's one thing
to sit in an audience of 500 people and listen to a speaker," Midgette
says. "It's quite another to be in a group of 30 people and actually
have your own specific question answered."
Samiha Khanna lived in India for a year and has followed Bhutto's
political career. She was particularly touched by Bhutto's message
and the fact that she was the first female leader of a Muslim country.
"There is such conflict between India and Pakistan and being able
to see her on neutral ground allowed me to see her for who she is,
a courageous woman," Khanna says. "She shows such strength and to
catch a glimpse of her extraordinary life is something I'll never
she can envision telling her grandchildren about seeing Bhutto and
Goodall at Elon. "Hearing about an issue we need to be aware of
from a person who works for that cause is so much more powerful
than reading about it in a book," she says. "Those lessons will
stay with you a lot longer."
the message they have received from these leaders is clear. "It
doesn't matter where you start or how unconventional your ideas
are," says Khanna, "you can make a difference if you believe in
Jennifer Guarino is a May 2003 graduate of Elon.)