President's Letter: Reflections on Vietnam, Space, Poetry and More
A recent few days in April offer an incredible example of the power of our university.
The first example was the culminating event of our First Year Experience program, which this year has included yearlong revisit, review and reconnection with the war in Vietnam. We began the academic year by hearing from Gen. H.R. McMaster, commanding general of Fort Benning and its Maneuver Center of Excellence, who discussed his own book, Dereliction of Duty, and his impressions of the Vietnam War.
The closing speaker for the Vietnam War focus on campus in April was Tim O’Brien, the celebrated author of The Things They Carried, a story collection of a platoon’s experiences, borrowed from his own, very personal recollections as an infantryman in Vietnam.
O’Brien’s work has earned him (among many, many recognitions) a National Book Award, France’s Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and a listing by John Updike in The Best American Short Stories of the Century. O’Brien spoke on campus during the day to more than 1,000 attendees and then, in the evening, spoke at the Springer Opera House as part of the Southern Literary Festival hosted by Columbus State. His talks were emotional, specific and graphic.
That same evening, Dr. Bernard Harris, the first African American astronaut to walk in space, helped dedicate a NASA space shuttle nozzle (which flew five missions in space) as the most significant part of the $19 million in NASA equipment donated to our Coca-Cola Space Science Center. Harris also spoke on campus during the day and at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center in the evening.
His talk was compelling and impressive. A physician by training, Harris joined NASA and traveled more than 7.5 million miles in support of space exploration and scientific research. His foundation supports STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the United States and around the world. Columbus State University supporter and donor Joseph Lunsford, an executive at Exxon Mobil, assisted mightily with the effort to bring Dr. Harris to campus and the community.
The very next day, the poet laureate of the United States, Natasha Trethewey, read from her works at Columbus State University’s Riverside Theatre Complex as part of the Southern Literary Festival. Trethewey, who grew up in Decatur, Ga., won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Native Guard, her 2006 collection about black Union soldiers who guarded a fort off the coast of Mississippi during the Civil War.
Trethewey’s readings were powerful and provocative.
If you layer onto these events the final weekend musical theater production of Rent, the International Trombone Festival, a juried student art exhibition, and then sprinkle in Cougar tennis, baseball and softball, you have some insight into the level and quality of activities at our university.
I am so proud to work with exceptional colleagues and students as we continue to walk our own great journey and reach new and important milestones in this our 55th year.
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