FDU’s New Jersey Speakers Series enjoys outstanding first season

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Peter Sammartino School of Education Associate Professor Khyati Joshi, Fairleigh Dickinson University President Sheldon Drucker, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Christopher Capuano, and alumna Christina Jackson, MAT'14 (Metro) at in the first event of the New Jersey Speakers Series. (Photos by Michael Paras)

By Kenna Caprio

During the inaugural season of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s New Jersey Speakers Series, Madeleine Albright told tales of foreign intrigue, Steve Wozniak shared thoughts on technology and ingenuity, and Dan Rather discussed breaking and reporting the news.

They — and Alan Alda, Olympia Snowe, David Gergen and David McCullough — wove personal narratives and fielded audience questions as they spoke of diplomacy, politics, technology, innovation, history, journalism, humor and fame.

"We take special pride in offering programs that enrich the cultural and intellectual life of our community — programs like this that bring to the community lessons of leadership, stories that define our times and voices that truly inspire,” said University President Sheldon Drucker, as he introduced the series in September.

And there’s plenty more to look forward to in the 2015-16 season, which starts on October 8, with former Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“It’s just plain interesting. Why wouldn’t you want to go? These people make you want to listen to NPR and watch CNN more. I found myself encouraging other students to get out of the house and go,” says Melanie Perez, of Allentown, Pa., a freshman psychology major and Global Scholar at the Metropolitan Campus. She attended the David Gergen and Dan Rather lectures. “These people just have so much knowledge to share,” she added.

Standout moments and quotes from this year’s distinguished lecturers —

Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State:

“Terrible things happen when great nations are weary,” she cautioned. “We can’t let our fear of overreach prevent us from reaching out.”

Still, Albright warned against the idea of America acting as the world’s policeman, and noted that no one nation can possibly remedy all global conflicts. “In today’s interconnected world, some crises must be managed before they can be solved.”

NJSS collage
Addressing the audience at NJSS, (Clockwise L to R) former Senator Olympia Snowe, actor Alan Alda and FDU President Sheldon Drucker.

Alan Alda, actor:

The biggest laughs of the night came when Alda described the perils of fame. “We all have this experience when we meet someone famous. People lose their syntax,” he said, telling the story of an enthusiastic greeter who said to him, “You’re my biggest fan.”

Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder:

“I was a nerd, an outsider,” he said, which forced him to become an introvert, spending time alone, thinking and dreaming. As an outsider he played pranks using electronics. “It was a way for me to socialize,” said Wozniak. Sharing a few of his exploits with the audience, he confessed, “I only got caught once.”

Olympia Snowe, former U.S. Senator:

“There was never a golden era of bipartisanship,” said Snowe. “Even our founding fathers were opinionated. But they realized the gravity and indispensability of consensus. Unfortunately, bipartisanship is rare today.

“Americans fear that permanent dysfunction will become part of the system in Washington,” said Snowe. The tragedy, she said, “is the perception by the American people that there’s no benefit of participating in our democracy.”

David Gergen, former presidential advisor and current CNN political commentator:

Gergen discussed America’s strength in energy, health care and life sciences, technology, and 3-D manufacturing. “Innovation,” he said, “is one of our greatest strengths.”

He concluded by sharing his optimism for the coming generation and the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. “We must nurture and help develop their promise.”

David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author:

Discussing the importance of understanding our shared history, McCullough said, “We are raising generations who are historically illiterate. There’s no understanding of the nation’s past.”

Through the lessons of history, “We learn how people handle failure. History shows we come out of dark times, solve problems and move on.”

Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News anchor:

Rather repeatedly referred to himself as, “a reporter who simply got lucky.” As a child he listened to Edward R. Murrow’s groundbreaking radio news broadcasts from World War II. Later in his career he worked with legendary anchor Walter Cronkite. “Nobody replaces a Cronkite,” he said, “I succeeded Cronkite.”

To budding journalists, he offered this question: “Do you burn to do it?” In journalism, Rather continued, “there’s great opportunity to make a difference and be a part of something bigger, to provide a service. I love to see the results of reporting.”


Moderator Steve Scott of WCBS Newsradio 880 AM and Former CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather share a laugh during the Q&A session.

Each event concluded with an audience Q&A session moderated by Steve Scott, a news anchor for WCBS Newsradio 880 AM, one of the University’s media partners for the series.

Select speakers also came to campus to engage with students and meet with University faculty and administrators. Wozniak spoke to a crowd of students, faculty, staff and guests at FDU’s Metropolitan Campus last November, while Snowe and Gergen made time to visit the Florham Campus in January and February, respectively.

“The speakers series provides access to global leaders like Madeleine Albright and other newsmakers and thought leaders,” said Associate Professor of Education Khyati Joshi. “Students had a marvelous time and were inspired by seeing and hearing these individuals in person.”

After Panetta on October 8, next season continues with: CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Oct. 29); famed documentary director/producer Ken Burns (Nov. 19); political activist and best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Jan. 28, 2016); long-distance swimmer and journalist Diana Nyad (Feb. 18, 2016); Frank Abagnale, Jr., subject of the film “Catch Me If You Can” (March 17, 2016); and futurist and author Michio Kaku (April 14, 2016).

“We’re thrilled with the wonderful response we’ve had from alumni and friends who have attended the series,” said Richard Reiss, FDU’s senior vice president for University advancement. “And we’re extremely grateful to our sponsors, Hollister Construction Services and PNC Bank, both of whom were active participants in the series throughout the year.”

The New Jersey Speakers Series — presented by Fairleigh Dickinson University — is sponsored by Hollister Construction Services, PNC Bank, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, WCBS Newsradio, The Star-Ledger and Prestige Automotive Group. The series is sold by subscription only. For tickets or information, visit www.NJSpeakersSeries.org, or call 1-888-MY-NJPAC or 1-888-696-5722.

Editor’s note: Additional reporting by Andrew McKay