Beyond the Circle: Outside Speakers

By: JJ Kim ’14

Recently, several speakers have come from outside the Circle to speak about their stories and ideas. In chapel, writer Andre Dubus talked about the story of his troubled childhood, his passion for writing and finding happiness, and recent graduate Augusta Thomson described her anthropological research on the pilgrimage around Mount Kailash in Tibet, one of the most sacred pilgrimages for Tibetan Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Bon faith traditions. In the Campbell Performing Arts Center, political commentator Kara Miller ’96 talked about the path to her career in media as well as her passion for politics.

How are these speakers brought in? For chapel talks, the arrangement is rather informal. Often, individual teachers recommend and contact speakers. Sometimes, alumni request to talk in chapel. For all school lectures, the Speakers Committee invites and contacts speakers with specific guidelines in mind. The all school read generally sets the theme of the year for lectures, and the

committee seeks to find speakers in interdisciplinary fields and varies the fields for each lecture. For example, an artist may be the first speaker. Then, the next speaker may be an economist and so forth.

While the student feedback on these speakers has been generally positive, bringing in outside speakers can be somewhat of an uncertain bet. Groton generally hears its own students speak in Chapel Talks and speeches of conviction, while writers and alumni speak in chapel and all school lectures. Over the years, some speakers have been lauded for their profound insights, interesting experiences and public speaking. Sometimes, others have spoken on topics too specialized for students to fully appreciate without sufficient background knowledge and interest. The outcomes are divided. If the lecture or chapel talk is captivating, it is wreathed with laurels. If not, students fall asleep in chapel chairs or complain about losing their valuable work time after sit down.

So here is the question: Should we invite outside speakers for talks and lectures?

The answer, I believe, is a firm yes.

Why do we have outside speakers? Sure, it is interesting to hear them speak about their experiences and ideas. But, the more important reason is to make sure we do not lose perspective on the real world.

Far too often, Groton students become stuck in tunnel vision, what is often referred as the “Groton Bubble” or, in one Sixth Form Chapel Talk, “the Fishbowl.” The Circle microcosm may seem a world by itself in isolation as students become all too preoccupied in what happens inside the Circle, losing perspective. Rumors and gossip flies around rather than breaking news and issues of the world.

This bubble must be broken every now and then to make sure Groton keeps in touch with the world outside. Outside speakers bring in news from outside the Circle, as well as their experiences and ideas. Andre Dubus reminded Groton students to find their own formula for happiness. Kara Miller urged students to venture into the unknown for hidden opportunities. Augusta Thomson told students about the sacred experience of a pilgrimage. True, some of these ideas and themes appear in Chapel Talks. But, outside speakers phrase them in non-Groton terms, using their experiences in the world.

In a more recent chapel talk given by Mr. Raphael Robert from Tanzania, Groton students were reminded of the opportunities given to them and the potential to help the world with such opportunities. Such powerful chapel talks break the Groton bubble.

Yes, not-so-interesting talks and lectures test our ability to stay awake. But, it is worth trying to listen them – to listen beyond the Circle.

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