|Edward Lee Elmore and Diana Holt sign books for our students. (Russell Guerrero)|
1. The topic
We offer a great many lectures on campus each year, with about four major ones with broad appeal. The Reading TUgether, Maverick, and MLK lectures offer variety. The other lectures are funded for primarily for political speakers (see number 3).
This lecture particularly resonated because of how personal it was. As one of my staff members pointed out, we often have the author, not the subject. The death penalty, is, unfortunately, timeless. People can only imagine the injustice of being locked up and mistreated for 30 years when innocent. Ms. Holt related a story, in this case, about a guard accelerating a dental procedure on an un-medicated Mr. Elmore, pulling out nearly all of his teeth to get it over with. The story is filled with prejudice, bias, bigotry and cruelty. It is about one case, one victim, one man, but it could be about so many others. Ms. Holt pointed out that 47 of Mr. Elmore's death-row friends were killed.
2. The introduction
Sara Miller, senior from Albuquerque, was chosen to introduce the speaker. Our president is bright and witty and I enjoy his introductions. He is confident enough to step aside for this lecture and the MLK lecture and allow for a student introduction. Dr. Tynes could have done the intro as well. But learning permeates everything we do. So when Sara stepped up to the microphone it just seemed right. Then, she started to speak. Professional and personal, she described how reading the book turned her plans to practice non-criminal law to the opposite: She has a new passion. She and Ms. Holt hugged as they had already bonded over dinner. Afterwards, Sara wrapped things up with equally touching and eloquent remarks. She even gave the two guests books about San Antonio to commemorate their visit.
3. The speaker
We have had incredible speakers with great name recognition. The one speaker that I heard was the best (one of the few I missed) was Ken Burns of documentary fame. Michael Moore was a hit as well and I missed that one too. I did see Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Norman Schwartzkopf, Tony Blair, Mario Cuomo, Desmond Tutu, William Proxmire, George H.W. Bush, John Glenn and more (as opposed to Moore).
For many, you would have no idea where they were, save for the Trinity seal hanging in the background. It is a pet peeve of mine that this day in age a well-paid speaker couldn't look up the Trinitonian on line and make some joke about a current campus issue, or acknowledge with specificity our academic ranking and reputation.
|Elmore, Tuttle, and Holt (Guerrero)|
Where do I begin with Ms. Holt? She started her talk by describing her wonderful experience as the guest of the campus and Dr. Tynes. She kicked off her slides showing a photo of the "first person to sexually abuse" her as a child, and a corresponding picture of her from around that time. She was honest and vulnerable from the start. She kept turning around to see the slides and then refocusing on the audience giving her talk more the feel of a conversation than a speech. But her preparation was stellar as she hit the main points without becoming awash in all the details. In addition, she was clearly, as she was described in the book, someone who was passionate, still bent on justice (she isn't done yet), and blunt. I think at one point she referenced fat white men, for example. No offense taken. She was funny as she dropped names much like a celebrity she met recently, and as she described being asked by Reese Witherspoon if she could play her in a movie.
Finally, Ms. Holt showed great sensitivity and compassion in her treatment of the victim, Dorothy Edwards, and the victim's daughter, Carolyn Edwards Lee, who she now calls a friend.
4. The guest
This could be included with the "speaker" section above, to be fair to other lecturers. But Mr. Elmore deserves his own section. In the book he is assessed as mentally retarded or incompetent. Ms. Holt said the proper term is actually "intellectually deficient." After several references to him, she pulled him up on stage with her at the end to answer questions from her and the audience. He was clearly uncomfortable, stating he was "shy." He used the word "right" a lot as he answered questions, and he didn't go into a lot of depth. He seemed exactly as described in the book: kind, gentle, warm, docile, polite, happy, and genuine. His favorite ice cream flavor? "Any." This was the first time he traveled by air and he was excited to be here to see the Alamo.
The best part, though, was the inter-play between him and Ms. Holt. At times she seemed part parent, and almost condescending (in a way that can come only from familiarity) as she explained questions to him. At other times she was playful, talking about him being buff and ribbing him that he still owes a balance on her bill. She rubbed his back, came to tears when she related the dental story, and showed her genuine love for this man. After what he had been through, and what she had been through with him, she could treat him any way she wanted. She showed a clip of the judge's ruling that he was free and described it as the happiest/best moment of her life. He clearly loves her and appreciates her so much.
You can't can a talk like this. You just can't.
5. The audience
And finally, while there were several upper-class students in attendance, it seemed that nearly all of the first year students were there. They liked the book, and read it - an easy read given the subject matter. They wanted to hear from her. And they wanted to see Mr. Elmore. (When I got to meet him I told him I was so glad he was alive. "Me too," he said.)
At first I wasn't sure if they got her and understood Ms. Holt was pointed, ironic, sarcastic, and funny. Indeed, this class seems VERY sweet and polite. They got her all right. They were just captivated. When she opened it up for questions, there were no microphones up front as there usually are. I think that could have been an error. But it added to the informal atmosphere as finally one, then two, and then a flood of hands started to go up as she and Mr. Elmore answered questions.
I actually get some chills thinking about our students. They wanted to know how this injustice (not the microphones) could happen. They were shocked, angry, moved, and sad. They wanted to hear from Ms. Holt. And they really wanted to hear from Mr. Elmore. They wanted to know how he FELT. They cared about him. It is rare here, if not unprecedented, for students to not stream out during the Q&A. Barely a soul moved when Ms. Holt concluded her remarks and began calling on students.
In the book-signing line afterward, some waited for over an hour for signatures and photos. One student took a selfie with them, which Ms. Holt explained to Mr. Elmore. They kindly posed for pictures, accepted hugs, deferred praise, and thanked our students for their care.
What makes a lecture a good one: The topic, the speaker, the learning, a personal approach, accessibility for our students (no secret service for this one), and emotion.
I wish they could all be this way. There is a reason students leave during the question and answer portion at other talks. They don't feel a connection. And that is the reason they stayed for this one.
Thank you Dr. Tynes, Sara Miller, Diana Holt, Edward Lee Elmore, and the Class of 2018 and other students. You just showed us the anatomy of a perfect lecture.