Menlo students shape new speaker series

The goal is greater interaction with the students

Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd. Former head of the CIA James Woolsey.

Those are among the big names in Menlo School's new speaker series, organized and designed by students.

The school has hosted prominent speakers for years, but the programs were primarily talks, followed by a short Q&A. With this new series, the guests are interviewed by a student "Charlie Rose-style" and students have more opportunity to probe issues they care about, says Menlo School senior David Harris, who spearheaded the new series.

David, who is editor in chief of the high school paper, explains the changes below.

"As students, we often listen to interesting people lecture us on their experiences. During assemblies, lunch and class, we hear guest speakers talk at us and share their views, but don't interact with them.

"In watching Charlie Rose and the way he probes his interviewees, I thought we could have a more powerful learning experience through a speaker series with direct contact and interaction.

"The goal is to not just to hear a speaker's 'what,' but their 'why,' their perspective, and their human experiences. I floated the idea with other students and we decided the student newspaper, The Coat of Arms, was perfect to host the program.

"Every step of this program is student-initiated, student-organized, and student-run. We've proactively pursued speakers by cold-calling and reaching out to connections in the community.

"We've explained in our outreach that this isn't just an invitation to talk; it's an invitation to interact -- interact with the next generation. We don't have a budget for the program, and as such all speakers participate pro bono. When they come, it's because they understand they are challenging young minds and hearing student perspective.

"The student reaction and attendance has been extraordinary. As the former head of the CIA, James Woolsey, and I attempted to enter our lecture hall on Feb. 25, the aisles were so full we had to ask attendees to stand and make-way; it was a 5-minute process to walk 20 feet. As with our first speaker, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd, the one-on-one Q&A was focused, intensive, and candid. Students and speakers have commented on the sophistication of the questioning and the ideas evoked by the speakers.

"At Menlo, we are fortunate to embrace close connection with our teachers. They are accessible, intelligent, and eager to share their experiences, as well as listen to our alternative perspectives. Extending this approach to nationally renowned leaders is an exhilarating opportunity. Our vision and hope is that this will become a lasting tradition at Menlo. I'm confident it will be."

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Like this comment
Posted by Johnathan Wamblat
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 10, 2010 at 5:41 pm

This boy is pretty extraordinary. His vision, articulation and sense of passion about Menlo reflects well on the school. It sounds like a great place

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