Fall Assembly Series speakers offer perspectives on education, immigration, environment, contributions to community and culture

Schedule includes the newly established James E. McLeod Lecture on Higher Education

As the country enters the final phase of an intense political season, the 2012 Assembly Series will feature individuals who bring passion and knowledge concerning issues that affect the way people think and potentially how they will vote.

The first three speakers, through powerful narratives, illustrate from different vantage points poverty’s effect on education (a fourth follows in October). In addition to educational advocates, speakers will cover other election-year concerns such as immigration, food development and the environment.

Two Assembly Series events pay tribute to the late James E. “Jim” McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, who died Sept. 6, 2011.

The first takes place as the university community celebrates a milestone in the history of the John Ervin Scholars program, which thrived under McLeod’s nurturing for a quarter century.

Secondly, the Center for the Humanities presents the James E. McLeod Lecture on Higher Education, underscoring the importance he placed on a liberal arts education.

Featured speakers will demonstrate some of the best examples of culture in creative ways, while others will demonstrate the amazing contributions each of us can make.

All Assembly Series programs are free and open to the public. In those cases when event seating may be limited, information will be provided on the Assembly Series website. Check the website regularly for updates, schedule changes or speaker additions.

The fall schedule follows.

Tuesday, Sept. 4: Wes Moore

7 p.m., College Hall, South 40
“The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates”
First Year Reading Program Lecture

Wes Moore (Credit: Amun Ankhra House LTD)

For the first Assembly Series program, Moore will discuss the experiences detailed in his best-selling memoir The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates.

In it, Moore shares how he grew up in a world impoverished in all senses of the word. His life trajectory propelled him out of the ghetto to become a Rhodes Scholar, decorated Navy Seal veteran, White House Fellow and entrepreneur.

The successful Wes Moore discovers that there is another Wes Moore — one with a strikingly similar background, who did not escape the tragic fate of so many trapped in a community bereft of positive support.

The other Wes Moore, the author discovers, is a convicted murderer serving a life sentence. As they begin to know each other and compare their lives, they provide startling and profound insights into the mystery of how two similar individuals could end up with such divergent destinies.

“The chilling truth,” he says, “is that his story could have been mine. The tragedy is that my story could have been his.”

As the 2012-13 First Year Reading Program selection, the book is spawning dozens of faculty-led conversations with new students to explore how character traits, family intervention, education and community influenced the decisions both men made.

Moore graduated in 1998 as a commissioned officer from Valley Forge Military College, then graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. As a Rhodes Scholar, he earned a MLitt in 2004, also in international relations, from Oxford University.

Moore became a U.S. Army captain and was deployed in 2005 to Afghanistan as a paratrooper with the elite 1st Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. While deployed there, he spearheaded the American plan for uniting former insurgents with the new Afghan government. He continues to support the military by serving on the Board of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America.

During a yearlong White House fellowship, Moore served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and then he began a career at Citigroup. In 2009, he was selected as an Asia Society Fellow and was also named one of Crain’s New York Business’ 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.

Moore sums up his lifelong commitment to providing positive support for children, particularly as it relates to education, this way:

“Public servants — the teachers, mentors and volunteers who work with our youth — are as imperative to our national standing and survival as are our armed forces. Public service does not have to be an occupation, but it must be a way of life.”

Tuesday, Sept. 11: Paul Tough

12:30 p.m., Women’s Building Formal Lounge
“How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character”

“Character is molded by the environment in which we grow up,” author Paul Tough writes. “It can be taught not just by parents, but by schools, coaches and mentors as well. Which means we all have a responsibility to help kids develop their character – as well as their math skills.”

Through exposés such as The New York Times Magazine cover piece “Can Character Be Taught?” and his new book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” Tough shares what he has learned about pioneering approaches to education that instill traits such as resiliency, self-control and empathy, in addition to academics. Tough cites the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) philosophy, which embraces this approach, as an example of how teaching character traits is key to helping students from underserved backgrounds earn college degrees.

Friday, Sept. 14: Ruby Bridges

4 p.m., Graham Chapel
“The Power of Our Names, Our Stories”
Ervin Scholars Program 25th-anniversary Celebration

Many decades after Ruby Bridges broke the color barrier in New Orleans’ public school system, she continues to share her extraordinary story of a six-year-old whose bravery and fortitude in the face of danger helped break down the forces of segregation. It’s a history that closely parallels the American history of race relations during the last half-century. Bridges’ program serves as the keynote event for the 25th anniversary of the Ervin Scholars Program, which was founded by James E. McLeod in honor of the university’s first African-American dean, John B. Ervin, to foster a richly diverse educational atmosphere on campus and enhance the quality and diversity of the student body.

Monday, Sept. 17: Mariano-Florentino (Tino) Cuellar

Noon, Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom “Immigrants, Citizens and American Public Law”

Contrary to popular belief that federal agencies are too bloated or bureaucratic to be effective, Tino Cuellar, JD, PhD, says U.S. federal agencies do work toward becoming more efficient and effective. Cuellar, this year’s Constitution Day speaker, certainly has the credentials to make such a statement. The Stanford University law professor has advised the Clinton and Obama administrations on a broad range of public policies from immigration to crime, food security and international relations, as well as serving in advisory positions affecting a long list of national policy initiatives.

Tuesday, Oct. 2: Walter Massey

4 p.m., Graham Chapel
“Liberal Arts: The Higgs Boson of Higher Education”
James E. McLeod Lecture on Higher Education

Walter Massey, PhD, president of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has made the most of his liberal arts education. It gave him the knowledge and abilities to think, reason, analyze, decide, discern and evaluate, and to use these tools to enjoy a long, fulfilling life and several successful careers. His appreciation of liberal arts makes him the ideal person to deliver the first annual James E. McLeod Lecture on Higher Education. The 1966 WUSTL alumnus is also a champion for improving minority student education.

Wednesday, Oct. 3: Erin Gruwell

4 p.m., Graham Chapel
“Becoming a Catalyst for Change

For anyone who doubts the power of storytelling to change the world, Erin Gruwell’s personal story of a teacher transforming a group of students labeled stupid and apathetic into confident, motivated, critical thinkers and socially aware high school graduates will erase that doubt for good. Her students lived in an environment full of racism, rejection, and no hope for the future. Instinctively, Gruwell understood their need for self-expression, so she asked them to begin writing journal entries about their lives. The class decided to call themselves the Freedom Writers, and, in 1999, their entries became a best-selling book: The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them.

Monday, Oct. 8: Sarah Vowell

7 p.m., Graham Chapel

“An Evening With Sarah Vowell”

Sarah Vowell is an extraordinary storyteller. To fans of This American Life radio show, she needs no introduction. From 1996 to 2008, Vowell entertained and enlightened listeners with her unusual, quirky tales. She brings that same beguiling style to her books, essays and columns, revealing an American history that will never be found in standard texts. In her sixth, most recent book, Unfamiliar Fishes, Vowell presents the history of the 50th state, Hawaii. In addition to Unfamiliar Fishes, her two other bestsellers are The Wordy Shipmates, which portrays the New England Puritans like they have never been portrayed; and Assassination Vacation, a strange, but intriguing road trip to sites dedicated to murdered U.S. presidents.

Thursday, Oct. 11: Jeremy Rifkin

Noon, Graham Chapel
“The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World”

According to Jeremy Rifkin, the world witnessed the end of the modern era in July 2008, when geopolitical and socioeconomic forces sent the cost of oil soaring to $147 a barrel. Eighteen months later, there was a worldwide financial collapse. How the world got to this critical point, and how to take advantage of the opportunities on the horizon, are the basic themes in Rifkin’s latest book, The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, the Economy and the World. It is also the title of the Assembly Series’ annual Elliot Stein Lecture in Ethics. Rifkin is the visionary president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, a consultant to the European Union, and author of 19 books exploring the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society and the environment.

Wednesday, Oct. 17: Graham Meriwether

Time and location to be determined
American Meat film viewing and discussion

In his film American Meat, inspired by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, director/producer Graham Meriwether set out to capture a year in the life of a small farm and, in doing so, had his perspective changed.

The result, four-and-a-half years later, is a film that presents the pros and cons of various farm practices and captures the beginning of the small-farm revolution.

A showing of the 82-minute film will be followed by a discussion, led by Meriwether, with a panel of experts involved in the food industry, plus a sampling of foods from local and artisan farmers, courtesy of WUSTL Dining Services and Bon Appetit.

Monday, Oct. 29: Aron Rodrigue

6 p.m., Umrath Hall Lounge
“Reflections on Sephardic Jewries and the Holocaust”

Aron Rodrigue’s groundbreaking research on the Sephardic Jewish experience during the Holocaust has put to the rest the widely held notion that Sephardim living in the Balkans and other European lands during the Holocaust were not as badly affected as the Ashkenazi in Eastern Europe. The truth is that they experienced widespread persecution and destruction, just as other Jewish communities under Nazi occupation. Rodrigue specializes in the history and culture of Sephardi and French Jewries as well as modern Jewish history, Jews of modern France, minority identities and the Ottoman Empire.

Thursday, Nov. 1: Bill McKibben

7 p.m., Graham Chapel
“350: The Most Important Number in the World”

For more than two decades, prominent environmental author and advocate Bill McKibben has combined scientific knowledge about the increasing carbonization of the planet and its deleterious effects with an activist’s determination. His message: “We are living on a fundamentally altered planet, and this new planet is not as nice as the old one, as recent inhospitable weather conditions demonstrate.”

But McKibben points out that there is reason to be hopeful, and the twin messages of good news/bad news runs through his many books, essays and articles as well as serving as the basis for his major initiative, called “350,” explaining the dismal scientific facts, while spreading the message that it’s not too late to enlighten policymakers and call them to action. McKibben delivers the keynote presentation for WUSTL’s Sustainable Cities conference to be held Nov. 1-3.

Friday, Nov. 16: Ken Burns

5 p.m., Steinberg Hall Auditorium

Just two days before his film The Dust Bowl airs on PBS stations, acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns will be on campus to receive the Center for the Humanities’ International Humanities Medal and give a talk for the Assembly Series. Burns rose to fame with the debut in 1990 of The Civil War, which aired on PBS stations and set new standards for documentary filmmaking. He followed up four years later with Baseball. In both miniseries and in many subsequent ones, Burns revealed an American culture deeply conflicted about and uniquely shaped by race.

For more information, visit assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-4620.