April 8, 2011
Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, moderated a discussion for Elon's Convocation April 7. Photo courtesy of Elon University Relations.
Williams moderates panel at Elon’s Convocation for Honors: ‘We Can be Better’ by Madelyn Smith ursday April 7, Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor, moderated a discussion for Elon University‘s Convocation for Honors. e discussion was titled “We Can be Better: Courageous voices confront our greatest challenges” and featured panelists with in-depth knowledge on U.S. p olic y and sug gest ions for government change. e panelists were David Gergen, Senior political analyst for CNN; David M. Walker, founder and chief executive oﬃcer of the Comeback America Initiative; Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core; and D av id L e v in, co-founder of t he Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP).
Williams addressed the audience of Elon students, faculty, staﬀ and community members on the issues the U.S. and the world is currently facing. He blended wit into his discussion with the panelists but did not sugar coat the seriousness of the problems. “ere’s been an aershock in Japan, where they simply cannot aﬀord another earthquake,” he said. “ere’s new ﬁghting in Libya, and some aren’t sure how the Senate can avoid a government shutdown. at’s the world we hand you today. And oh by the way, you all owe your country $45,000 – that’s the debt each one of you inherits. But today, we have ﬁve very learned, talented and crucial voices to help bring light to these issues.” ‘A Rising Tide of Mediocrity’ Williams said in a recent NBC News and Wall Street Journal Poll, 66 percent of
Americans said they were not conﬁdent about the future. “Put another way, most people believe our nation is in decline,” he said. David Gergen agreed, saying there is noticeable pessimism concerning the future of the U.S. “A growing number of Americans believe that the darkest hour of the night comes just before it goes totally black,” Gergen said. “at is an issue all of us are facing today – there is a sense of ‘We can’t get there.’” David Walker added that solutions to ﬁnancial problems in the U.S. must start with a change in government attitudes. “e leaders need to put progress over partisanship,” he said. “And they need to shed light on the 88 percent of spending they’re not talking about.” Gergen said national spending and the resulting national debt is an example of a
ELONUNIVERSITY April 8, 2011
‘rising tide of mediocrity’ concerning major government decisions. “We let these things like debt accumulate,” he said. “And then you pay a huge price. Because of this, we face a tough future, and it’s going to require more people who put the country ﬁrst.” Words from the panel:
Students, Teachers: Key Players in Our Nation’s Future Gergen, Walker and the other panelists urged current seniors and other Elon students to welcome their role as the future of the nation in order to ﬁght mediocrity within the government. “We cannot wait for you to spend another ten years to jump in the pool,” said Gergen. “David Levin got involved with reform at the age of 22. Eboo Patel got into interfaith work at 22. ese are your role models for jumping into the arena early. Don’t wait. You’ve got to realize that it takes a long time to get hard work done. Both of these men have been in this for 20 years – that’s a long time. So you’ve got to make this the work of a lifetime.” David Levin, who has been a teacher for 20 years, is the cofounder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which runs a national network of public schools dedicated to guiding lowincome students to academic success. Most beginner KIPP students come from areas with a predicted 8.3 percent college entry rate. But aer going through KIPP schools, nearly 85 percent of the students will attend colleges nationwide. Levin credits the students’ success to innovative teaching – for example, using music and rhythm to learn certain subjects – and the ‘sense of team and family’ that exists in KIPP schools. “People come into our schools and they hear music, they hear joy,” he said. “And that kind of energy is so important in our education system today. ere is no higher calling than teaching. Take any teaching chance you get.” Williams added that the U.S. continues to fall behind in math and science education compared to other countries. Levin credited this problem to the gap between higher education and grade schools. “When it comes to education, we need a Pre-K through grade 16 approach,” he said. He stressed that if not enough attention is focused on math and science in grade school, the interest and conﬁdence level of students in these areas will not be high when they enter college. Steps for Improvement Shirley Ann Jackson said it is best to take a ‘portfolio approach’ to approaching the nation’s most heavy-hitting problems, especially those dealing with the environment and energy use. Among the items in this packed portfolio for nationwide improvement are -Innovation -Transparency of energy markets -Consistency of health and energy regulation -Sound infrastructure -Eﬃciency Jackson added that people should strive to suggest improvements in all of these areas, and that the most hope for improvement lies in the college-aged generation. “I educate people your age,” she said. “And I think because of you, the future is great. ose of us who have been around a while longer have the opportunity and responsibility to inform, but we also have to help you do that too.”
“The call to your generation is whether you in fact can really rally for this country - help revive it and rebuild it based on the kind of values that you have.” -David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst
photo by Julia Miller.
photo by Madelyn Smith.