What's New at the Ath

A new semester at CMC means another set of speakers at the Ath. After last semester’s high-profile visitors including award-winning New York Times writer and best-selling author Andrew Ross Sorkin as well as tech visionary Scott Cook, the start of 2011 presents another stellar line-up of speakers. A quick glance at the list shows impressive variety across many fields. This semester boasts an array of speakers relating to Middle East policy issues, including Nangy Ghafarshad, the owner of Claremont’s own Walter’s Restaurant (February 7) Ghafarshad recently returned from a one-year post in Afghanistan as a consultant to the State Department.  Before immigrating to the U.S. decades ago, Ghafarshad served in theRoyal Afghan Air Force. Along those lines, a visit from Zalmay Khalilzad (February 22), former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, should be an excellent talk that can shine some light on the current turmoil in Egypt and potential foreign policy responses.

According to Bonnie Snortum, the director at the Athenaeum, planners focused on bringing speakers who would speak on pressing national issues, such as healthcare and education. Some of these speakers include Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, which seeks to protect individual liberties such as freedom of speech on college campuses nationwide. Phil Bredesen, who just finished two terms as Tennessee governor, will be coming to discuss his latest book on how to develop a sustainable health care system in the U.S. (February 24).

Nevertheless, Snortum mentioned that “there is a lot of serendipity in planning” speakers.  Not all invited speakers cohere with a larger master plan.

One of those apparent out-of-left-field choices includes wine blogger Gary Vaynerchuck (March 23). For wine connoisseurs or for those trying to stray away from beer and ease into the fruit juice, Vaynerchuck’s visit is a definite must (check out his video blog). His daily video chats with wine lovers across America include wine tasting with in-depth analysis, so let’s hope he can lead a group tasting at the Ath. Not to mention, with a New York Times bestseller on his resume, he will soon be releasing The Thank You Economy, a look into how businesses must evolve in an online driven world to satisfy demanding customers.

If you need something non-traditional to cure your addiction to stale Top 40 tunes, then the Chinese New Year musical extravaganza (February 10) and the mariachi concert in honor of Cesar Chavez (March 24) will probably do the trick.

In addition to the current lineup, the Athenaeum recently announced that Vicky Colbert, the winner of the 2011 Kravis Leadership Prize, will come to speak at the Ath on March 24. Colbert once served as Colombia’s Vice Minister of Education and is the founder of Escuela Nueva, an educational enrichment foundation that has improved literacy and provided a superior classroom environment for five million children in 14 Latin American countries already. Past winners of the prize, which recognizes leaders in the nonprofit sector, include Fazle Abed, the founder of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, an organization providing microfinancing services and various social development programs to over 110 million people.

To cap it all off with some controversy, a visit from Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, should make for a contentious and highly anticipated Q&A session (April 19). Hopefully we can get a packed room of intelligent students to prove this guy wrong and debunk his argument. Regardless, it should be interesting to hear his two cents especially on a campus that provides a unique cross-section unrepresentative of the average American population.

Despite this list of engaging and interesting speakers, some complain that there is no big-name speaker along the lines of Mitt Romney or Karl Rove this semester. Sadly, the Ath has experienced some recent budget cutbacks. Despite the reduced budget, Snortum insists that it hasn’t markedly affected speaker selection. While the Ath doesn’t have a major big name on its list, Snortum told the Forum: “We ultimately focus on having great engaging speakers that aren’t necessarily always high profile individuals.” As if the past hasn’t proven it, this semester should confirm that a great selection of speakers does not necessarily have to include a high-profile guest.