Students encouraged to get involved in country now at Elon University spring Convocation

Marlena Chertock

APRIL 7, 2011

Leo Lambert thanked the panel and congratulated the class of 2011 at the spring Convocation for Honors. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

“You need to find what you like doing, your passion and do that,” said Eboo Patel, a journalist and member of Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel was one of the panelists at the 2011 spring Convocation for Honors on April 7 at 3:30 p.m.

Anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was the moderator for the five-person panel at the 2011 spring Convocation for Honors. The panel was titled “We can be better: Courageous voices confront our greatest challenges.” He offered humor to the conversation.

The discussion focused on education, technology, the environment and alternative forms of energy, the national deficit, fiscal irresponsibility, how to get more people into science and technology sectors and other issues.

Students should go into fields and jobs that include what they love to do, said Patel, who is also the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization that promotes religious pluralism.

“Figure out what’s important to you,” Patel said. “That’s going to be the cornerstone of your learning, your life. And you need a skill set to do that.”

The next step is to make what you love important to other people, he said.

Everyone should know that he or she owes something back, said David Gergen, the chair of the Elon University School of Law Advisory Board, a senior political analyst for CNN and director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“We didn’t get here individually, we got here with the help of many people,” he said. “We encourage you to go into the public sector, nonprofits and the government.”

But business can also play an important role in rebuilding this country, he said.

“People think business doesn’t have loyalty to the country,” he said. “But some businesses are trying to do good for people.”

David Levin spoke about promise and commitment. He is the co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP. KIPP is a network of high-achieving charter schools that serves mostly low-income minority children in 20 states and D.C.

“What promise are you going to make to whom and are you going to keep it?” Levin said. “It takes a lifetime to keep the commitment.”

It takes a long time to get work done, Gergen said.

The nation’s hope rests on the next generation, this generation

“Your generation is the hope of the future,” Gergen said. “That’s wrong, you need to get involved now.”

This generation needs to be disproportionately informed and involved, David Walker said.

Walker is head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) and founder, president and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, which encourages policymakers on a non-partisan basis to help achieve solutions to America’s fiscal imbalances.

“I already don’t have what you guys are well on your way to achieving,” Williams said. He raised his hand. “I dropped out of college.”

America doesn’t have a plan that’s future-focused, result-oriented, Walker said.

“We’re not as great as we think we are,” he said.

America has to rally before a crisis happens, he said.

He offered a metaphor to explain further. America is good when a wolf is in the door but not when it has termites in the basement, he said.

Making progress on these crises, these many problems in the world requires a lot more people who put the country first, according to Gergen.

A lot of politicians view their party first and the country second, Gergen said.

Technology’s negative effects on society

Williams asked the panel if the technology available to people today has eroded the culture. With mobile devices, social networks and text messages available to many young people today, has there become more focus on “meals, moods and plans for later,” he asked.

“It gives us an out from listening to others who are different from us, who we don’t understand,” Levin said.

When he went speed dating with his wife for fun, his “date” asked what he did. Levin answered that he was a teacher. The woman then proceeded to text on her Blackberry, he said.

In order to become good at what they want to, students and everyone needs unplugged time, Patel said.

“We had more time to think,” he said.

Take time to focus on and emphasize what matters to you, he said.

“We need to put technology aside from time to time, especially when with loved ones,” Walker said.

Making education a focus

“There are no shortcuts in education, especially no shortcuts in math or science,” Levin said.

The definition of what a teacher is needs to change, according to Levin.

The nation needs to broaden its view of what education is, according to Shirley Ann Jackson. Jackson is a physicist and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

“Do we really give the attention to education, science and mathematics that we should?” Jackson said.

America needs innovation to fix many of its problems, she said.

“We need to get real about it and not lurch from one thing to the other,” she said.

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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