CMCers Shine at Idea Night

Thursday's Idea Night gave students the opportunity to be honored as Athenaeum speakers for the first time ever. People came with their friends and the mood was light, facilitated by Forum Editors-in-Chief Carl Peaslee '11 and Michael Wilner '11.The Forum received many excellent submissions for the event, and the editors did their best to choose the most promising ideas while keeping variety in mind. In the end, six topics and a total of eight speakers were selected.

The first, Jeremy Wolff '13, introduced the impressive versatility of "circular thinking" in the design field. He raced through the slides at a lightning pace, inundating the audience with circular designs in everyday life and explaining their merits by using Bauer Center, Starbucks, and the Athenaeum designs as examples. Luckily his haste was matched by sharp wit and a strong ability to present alternative examples to the audience during the short Q&A.

The second presentation was by John-Clark Levin '12 and Jason Soll '12. The pair spoke about the underlying causes of poverty. Poverty, the two argued, is not a lack of money; rather, a lack of money is a symptom of poverty. With my personal political convictions, I'm inclined to agree with the general premises and most things the conservative pair might argue. Still, I didn't understand their idea for a solution. Neither did Michelle Kahn '12, Charlie Sprague'10 or Sandy Russell '10, who all successively asked variations of the same question: what are you going to do about it? That was the idea the audience was expecting to hear, and didn't. The guests were further surprised when an unrelated picture of Jason in a track suit appeared on screen, detracting from his presentation. Contrary to popular belief, including a picture of one's biceps does little to strengthen an argument.

Next up were ASCMC veterans Eric Scott '11 and Ben Kraus '11, who presented their idea for the Improvements, Projects, and Actions Committee (IPAC), a committee of students designated to create and implement long-term goals to improve the CMC experience. Eric and Ben recovered flawlessly when some unforeseen technical difficulties erased half of their slideshow, inadvertently giving them an added opportunity to show their command over their subject and presentation. Josh Siegel '10 "went there" and asked Ben if he would have created the Committee had he won his bid for ASCMC president. "No," he responded, "Not immediately.  But by October 2010 I would have figured out that it was necessary to create lasting change at CMC."

Fourth was Emily Forden '10, who encouraged active audience participation with a live demonstration of her thesis argument on the Roman torture method unassumingly called "The Sack." Emily "executed" Kyle Block '10 with the assistance of David Nahmias '10 by stuffing Kyle into a maggoty cow's carcass with a whole ark of dead animals. Then, Kyle was spoon-fed Ath dessert to ensure temporary survival. Kyle's torture and death was a first for the Athenaeum, which previously claimed zero casualties in its 40-year history. Throughout the demonstration, Emily explained her historical interpretation of this Roman tradition and the purifying effect she believes it had on the collective Roman soul. Liz Johnson '11 stepped up and asked the question everyone was wondering: "What are some other creative manifestations of Roman criminal justice?"  to which Emily replied, "They aren't Ath-appropriate!" (If you liked Emily's talk, then I strongly recommend any class by CMC history professor Shane Bjornlie.)

Roxanne Phen '10 presented a condensed version of her thesis topic: changing the philanthropic landscape by introducing low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs). Arguably the perfect pitch for a CMC crowd, Roxanne spoke about capitalizing on the benefits and flexibility of for-profit companies for non-profit purposes. For more on her presentation, Roxanne will be publishing a Forum article in the coming week.

Finally, CMC alum Alex Caldwell '09 spoke about robots. I question the selection committee's decision to include an alum when so many current students had applied to give talks. Nevertheless, the audience was undoubtedly entertained by Alex's accessible presentation on our fast approach to the technical singularity point-- a moment in time when robots will be able to teach themselves. Noting studies that argue against the ability of robots to ever make moral choices, Alex put forth his idea of  utopia as a day when human labor is rendered obsolete. In his Q&A session, Mr. Caldwell had to admit that, no, he had not seen WALL·E yet.

In the end, there could only be one. The audience voted by text message and the results were displayed live, yielding a dramatic dead tie between Jeremy and Roxanne. An instant runoff was held and Roxanne took the title of the first Athenaum VIP, solidifying her name on an Athenaeum plaque and snatching a coveted ticket to the head table for Mitt Romney's talk on April 15.

Congratulations to the lovely Roxanne Phen and her winning idea on future philanthropic models, and to Carl and Michael for hosting a wonderful event and creating a new CMC tradition.   I predict it will become a part of CMC's Athenaum culture and remain with us for quite some time.