Winter Park Institute Turns 10

Winter Park Magazine looks back at the Winter Park Institute’s first decade and looks forward to the speaker series’ 2017-18 season.

Over the past decade, the Winter Park Institute has brought the likes of Jane Goodall, Garrison Keillor, Gloria Steinem, George Takei, Paul Simon, and Ken Burns to Rollins. Over the past decade, the Winter Park Institute has brought the likes of Jane Goodall, Garrison Keillor, Gloria Steinem, George Takei, Paul Simon, and Ken Burns to Rollins.

This article originally appeared in Winter Park Magazine’s summer 2017 issue. It is republished here with permission.

Since the 1920s, Rollins College has brought preeminent scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, writers, activists, and thought leaders to campus—not only for lectures and performances, but to engage in direct and meaningful ways with students, faculty, and the community.

For the past decade, the Winter Park Institute (WPI) at Rollins College has continued that role as a nucleus of creativity, critical thinking, and intellectual engagement through its popular speaker series.

WPI’s 10th anniversary roster has just been announced, and as usual it’s an eclectic bunch—ranging from a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, to a Hong Kong-born designer whose public art installations have popped up in more than 2,000 cities worldwide, to a presidential granddaughter turned world-hunger activist.

There’s also a retired astronaut who holds seven graduate degrees and is the only person to have flown on all five space shuttle orbiters and an internationally renowned sports legend known for incisive commentary and cultural criticism.

As usual, there’ll be an intimate reading by Billy Collins, a former two-term U.S. poet laureate who is WPI’s senior distinguished fellow.

“I always look forward to these Winter Park presentations,” says Collins. “It’s wonderful to appear before a hometown audience and to see so many friends and neighbors.”

Speaker series fall guests, dates, and venues are as follows: historian Jon Meacham (Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); world-hunger activist Lauren Bush Lauren (Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); and the best-selling Collins (Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium).

The season continues into 2018, when WPI will host artist and urban designer Candy Chang (Thursday, January 18, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); retired astronaut Story Musgrave (Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium); and NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Warden Arena in the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center). Hey, we said it would be an eclectic roster.

Up until the 2016-17 season, admission to WPI speaker series events had been free to the public. However, some marquee names attracted such large crowds that attendees were inconvenienced by long lines—and vexed by the uncertainty of securing seats.

So a ticketed model was introduced that guaranteed seating and eliminated the need to arrive hours early and jostle for position. Rollins students, faculty, and staff are still admitted free, while members of the general public may choose from several ticketing options.

Ticket prices vary by speaker. Go to rollins.edu/wpitickets for more information, or call the box office at 407-646-2145.

“We found that our audiences were grateful for the enhanced organization and the reduced hassle,” says WPI Executive Director Gail Sinclair. “People are happy to pay a relatively low cost for both the convenience and the opportunity to hear truly engaging speakers. Overall, the transition went very smoothly.”

Ideas that make a difference

If you’re a Rollins student, imagine a screenwriting workshop with Garrison Keillor, a social justice discussion with George Takei, a master class in string instruments with Itzhak Perlman, a women’s studies seminar with Gloria Steinem, or a tour of Eatonville with Julian Bond. How about vocal coaching from Marilyn Horne or filmmaking tips from Ken Burns?

“The WPI speaker series is perhaps more important now than ever because it raises the level of discourse and exposes people—students and the broader community—to new ideas and to people making a positive difference,” says Rollins President Grant Cornwell. “We all need to be reminded that, regardless of the headlines on any given day, there are extraordinary people out there who are making the world a better place.”

Guests of the WPI speaker series have won Academy Awards, Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, National Medals of the Arts, Presidential Medals of Freedom, and even French Legions of Honor. Three have been Kennedy Center Honorees and one has earned a Nobel Peace Prize.

The opportunity for visiting luminaries to work directly with students and faculty is at the heart of WPI’s mission. So its speaker series is far more multilayered than the public presentations that have cumulatively drawn more than 50,000 people to the Rollins campus.

Paul McCartney (Photo by Scott Cook) Paul McCartney (Photo by Scott Cook)

Widening the conversation

After spending time on campus with students and faculty, WPI speaker series guests offer public presentations that have become cherished and eagerly anticipated events in Winter Park and throughout Central Florida.

Audiences have eavesdropped as Billy Collins explored the creative process with Paul Simon and Sir Paul McCartney; listened to Jean Michael Cousteau, Thane Maynard, and John Cronin discuss the future of the natural environment; marveled at the perseverance and heroism of Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords; and chuckled along with Bill Bryson as he described the foibles of society in the U.S. and the U.K.

These programs represent a small sampling of the enlightened conversations that the WPI speaker series engenders, both on campus and throughout the region.

“Members of the audience leave energized and better equipped to engage with others,” Sinclair says. “Raising the level of awareness about important artistic and societal issues has a profound ripple effect.”

WPI’s origins can be traced to 1927, when Rollins President Hamilton Holt and Professor of Books Edwin Osgood Grover launched the Animated Magazine. (Rollins College Archives) WPI’s origins can be traced to 1927, when Rollins President Hamilton Holt and Professor of Books Edwin Osgood Grover launched the Animated Magazine. (Rollins College Archives)

A hallowed tradition

Rollins has a long tradition of leading important conversations. In 1927, several hundred spectators gathered in the Recreation Hall on the shores of Lake Virginia to witness the first “edition” of the Rollins College Animated Magazine.

It wasn’t a printed publication, but a live event that featured presentations from novelists Irving Bacheller and Rex Beach, poets Cale Young Rice and Jessie Rittenhouse, humorist Opie Read, and journalist Albert Shaw.

The Animated Magazine was the brainchild of Professor Edwin Osgood Grover and President Hamilton Holt, who designated themselves the “editor” and the “publisher,” respectively.

Over the years, speakers included journalist Edward R. Murrow; actors Mary Pickford, Greer Garson, and James Cagney; FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune; U.S. Army generals Omar Bradley and Jonathan Wainwright; and authors Carl Sandburg, Willa Cather, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

In 1931, Holt and legendary educator John Dewey convened “The Curriculum for the Liberal Arts College,” a conference that proposed a groundbreaking approach to liberal education—still based on the arts and sciences, but also calling for active citizenship and civic service. The assembly attracted national attention, and the service-based educational model that emerged was adopted by Rollins and other colleges.

Rollins honored the 75th anniversary of this seminal gathering in 2007 with the Colloquy on Liberal Education and Social Responsibility in a Global Community. Poet Maya Angelou, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, astronaut Sally Ride, author Salman Rushdie, biologist E.O. Wilson, and others met to explore the social, political, and economic themes shaping education in the 21st century.

WPI was formed as a result of the successful colloquy, renewing Holt’s and Grover’s vision of bringing thought leaders to Winter Park—and facilitating energetic and exciting discourse on campus and beyond its borders.

Today, speakers with high public profiles, such as Keillor in 2016, pack the Warden Arena at the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center, while those who have earned acclaim in more specific areas of endeavor fill more intimate venues on campus.

2017–18 WPI speakers series in brief

Jon Meacham
The Art of Leadership: Lessons from the American Presidency
Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 p.m.
Knowles Memorial Chapel
Ticket prices: $40, $30, $20
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Lauren Bush Lauren
How to FEED the World, One Bag at a Time
Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 p.m.
Tiedtke Concert Hall
Ticket prices: $25, $15, $10
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Billy Collins
Beyond the Birdbath: Poems from Several Time Zones
Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m.
Bush Auditorium
Ticket prices: $25, $15, $10
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Candy Chang
Before I Die: A Participatory Art Installation
Thursday, January 18, 7:30 p.m.
Tiedtke Concert Hall
Ticket prices: $25, $15, $10
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Story Musgrave
Farm Kid to Rocket Man and Beyond: Personal Exploration, Excellence, and Evolution
Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m.
Bush Auditorium
Ticket prices:$25, $15, $10
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Writings on the Wall: An Evening with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Warden Arena in the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center
Ticket prices: $50, $40, $30, $20, $15
Event Preview
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Go to rollins.edu/wpitickets for more information, or call the box office at 407-646-2145. Packages that include smaller meet-and-greet events are available for some speakers.