Speakers Engaging with the Tufts Community

A roundup of some of the public figures who spoke at Tufts this fall semester

Nine round photo portraits of people against a blue background.

This fall Tufts welcomed an array of guest speakers with keen insights on big issues of our day. They included two running for president in 2020: Republican Bill Weld and Democrat Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke has since dropped out of the race, but his visit launched a Tisch College of Civic Life speaker series of presidential candidates.

Other highlights included a visit from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and from Deborah Lipstadt, writer and Holocaust historian. Collectively, the speakers represented many different perspectives and career paths, but they all bore witness to words of advice Sotomayor share with students: “Engage in the world around you. Don’t be a bystander in life.”

Beto O’Rourke, former Democratic Texas congressman and presidential candidate, visited Tufts on September 5 to participate in a Presidential Town Hall hosted by Tisch College. “Every connection that we have with the rest of the world should be leveraged to address climate change. . . . We again have culpability, responsibility, but also opportunity to lead.”

Will Hurd, a Republican Texas Congressman and former CIA agent, visited Tufts on September 6 as a guest of Tisch College. In a wide-ranging conversation, he touched on a number of national issues, including immigration. “We need to streamline legal immigration,” he said. “The U.S. has benefited from the brain drain of every other country for the last couple of decades. Let’s continue that, and let’s benefit from the hardworking drain as well, too. If you’re going to be a productive member of our society, let’s get you here as quickly as possible.”

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke to the crowd of almost 3,000 at Tufts on September 12. “Engage in the world around you. Don’t be a bystander in life,” she said. “Identify the things that excite you and go out and change the world—because you will be a much happier person, and the world will be a much better place.”

Deborah Lipstadt, writer and Holocaust historian, highlighted the nuances and dangers of modern antisemitism in a September 17 talk at Tufts as part of the School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series. “Every genocide begins with words,” she said. “Not everybody hears the words. Not everybody who speaks the words will go on to be a genocider, a committer of genocide. But everyone who does, who goes on to do evil, will have started with words. Words count.”

Karl Rove, political consultant and former advisor to George W. Bush visited Tufts on September 25 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. “We like to have the myth that everything comes down to Ohio or . . . Florida, but you don’t know that at the beginning. At the end, it does come back down to the state whose electoral votes pop you over 270,” said Rove, regarding the election of President Donald Trump.

Bill Weld, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor, visited Tufts on October 16 as part of Tisch College “town halls” in which presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle are invited to engage the Tufts community in informal conversations. “The president has so divided the country that for the first time in my lifetime, people aren’t unified in thinking that it’s good to be an American,” said Weld.

Chuck Rosenberg, A82, former senior Justice Department official and former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, in October visited with students in the Interactive Reasoning in the Practice of Occupational Therapy seminar, taught by friend Janet Brooks, A82. Rosenberg, host of the popular MSNBC interview podcast The Oath, shared his insights on the importance of listening and humility. “The ability to sit down with a bank robber or a federal judge and treat them exactly the same, that’s how people succeed in my line of work,” he said.

Andy Youniss, co-founder and CEO of Rocket Software, delivered the Dean’s Lecture at the School of Engineering on October 24, where he shared how humanist values support his firm’s mission and success. Empathy plays a big part in “truly understanding when a customer calls us and is unhappy,” he said. “Until you really have empathy, I don’t know how you can be in the customer service delivery business, you just can’t do it.”

José Andrés, H18, renowned chef, restaurant owner, and humanitarian, visited Tufts as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series on December 10. He discussed how food affects everything from the health of our bodies, our society, and our planet to education, activism, and even immigration reform. “Food is what we do from the moment we’re born, to the moment we die. It’s part of our DNA,” Andrés said. “I believe in the power of food to tell the story of who we are, as a people and as a society.”

Laura Ferguson can be reached at laura.ferguson@tufts.edu.

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