Fall Assembly Series celebrates human spirit

| Staff Reporter

The 2011 fall assembly series will explore a broad range of topics and will feature philanthropists, lawyers, journalists, college professors and even comic-strip creators.

The main focus of this fall’s assembly series is the human spirit.

Although there aren’t any big name speakers in this year’s schedule, organizers are happy with the Assembly Series Committee’s selections, Director of Assembly Series and Special Projects Barbara Rea said.

“I’ve been here for 15 years, and I’ve found that the most interesting speakers—and the ones I would encourage students to hear—are the ones you know nothing about,” Rea said.

The series will touch on a number of controversial topics. A 9/11 memorial panel will focus on the struggle between national security and American civil liberties. Journalist E.J. Dionne and political scientist Robert Putnam will discuss religious freedom, the state of religion in American politics.

Steven Galloway, author of the “The Cellist of Sarajevo,” the 2011 First Year Reading Program novel, will also be speaking.

According to Alicia Schnell, project coordinator for the vice chancellor of students, the First Year Reading Program always partners with the Assembly Series to bring in speakers relevant to the year’s reading selection.

“We chose to invite Steven Galloway as we thought he’d resonate well with students,” she said. “He’s a fairly young writer and teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia.”

Schnell sees it as a great opportunity for the freshmen, who will be able to participate in a question and answer session with the author during his speech.

Freshmen are excited to hear the author speak firsthand.

“The book was very good,” freshman Elan Baskir said. “But listening to the author speak will give well-needed insight and background to the story that was told in the book.”

While the event is directed toward freshmen, both Schnell and Rea believe the audience will include upperclassmen and faculty members who have read and enjoyed the book.

According to Rea, Galloway’s book embodies the central theme of this fall’s series.

“It’s about people who are individually doing their part to make a difference in the world,” she said.

Rea mentioned that two other speakers in the series—Jeremy Courtney and Ellen Gustafson—particularly embody this.

Courtney is the founder of the Preemptive Love Coalition, which provides life-saving surgery for Iraqi children suffering from congenital heart defects, often as a result of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare campaign.

“We wanted to highlight his efforts and raise awareness of the Skandalaris Center’s support of social entrepreneurship,” Rosemary Gliedt, manager for the Center, said. “We want to support the Assembly Series in their efforts to bring speakers of this caliber to campus.”

Gustafson, a philanthropist and entrepreneur who has worked with the United Nation’s World Food Program, is most known for her company FEED Project, which she co-founded with Laura Bush, George W. Bush’s niece. The company works with humanitarian organizations like UNICEF to provide hunger relief, selling $60 “FEED bags” that have enough food for an entire year.

Gustafson will be speaking about how she thinks issues like obesity and hunger can be solved.

Comic-strip artist Jorge Cham will attend a screening of a movie based off his popular online comic strips, which depict the lives of graduate students.

There will also be a tribute to esteemed playwright Tennessee Williams to celebrate the 75th anniversary of his matriculation at Washington University.

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