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The Blue & Gray Press | August 23, 2019

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Speakers fail to appeal to students

Crowd-book-readerBy ROBERT TYSZKA

Lately, I have noticed a lack of student attendance at keynote speaker events, such as the Great Lives Lectures. It seems like these events are aimed at the University of Mary Washington community, yet the student attendance at these events is awfully low. I believe the school could remedy this problem by having more upbeat speakers come to visit.

The keynote speaker series is something that UMW takes pride in. One would think the attendance would be higher for these events due to the fact that they are right on campus, free and easily accessible. Talking to a few students, I realize that the speakers and subjects seem to be aimed at a much older audience than the student demographic.

“I think I would go to the keynote speaker events if there were people I actually had interest in,” said Romadon Stovall.

Maybe if the school would bring in speakers that are more relevant to our demographic, we could bring in some more students to the events.

I think the problem definitely does not reside in publicity or advertising. UMW does a great job of putting up those posters and getting the word out. The main problem is the content. Keynote speakers are a great thing to have on campus, but some further attention needs to be brought to the types of speakers and what UMW students will actually want to go see.

For example, some subjects in the Great Lives Lectures are not really effective at engaging the students. No one in my demographic has seen or can remember seeing Walter Cronkite on the screen. Winston Churchill is another individual that I just can’t picture students wanting to hear a lecture about. He might be interesting to history majors, but not to the wide audience of our student body.

For instance, if pop culture icons, such as Steven Colbert, came to speak, I believe it would hold a lot more interest for students. They need people that students could actually relate to. That’s not to say the speakers that we have are not interesting to some, but they seem to be very selective, and most chosen speakers appeal to a specific group.

Events like this have the potential to be very effective and rewarding. One option to draw in more students would be to focus more attention on topics being discussed by students themselves. If the subjects are such that students can relate to more easily, like social media, pop culture trends and fashions, they will have more of an interest in attending.

I realize that the school has a budget that they need to take into account. Yet, I think there are ways to work around this. The University could find a way to balance between pricey keynote speakers and ones that hold student interest.


  1. The whole point of the Great Lives series is having authors come speak about a historical figure that they’ve written a biography about. I’m not sure where Colbert fits in that scenario considering no biography has been written about him. Even if there were a biography of Stephen Colbert and that was of interest to students, the point of the lecture series is to have the author come speak about it, not the celebrity they wrote about. If you want to have flashy big name speakers come to campus you are right that it will cost a lot of money, but don’t forget at least a small handful of high-profile people have been on campus recently. Michelle Obama came to visit during the campaign, and Ben and Jerry came for the Fredericksburg Forum.

  2. Romadon Stovall

    Don’t you need a student audience in order to educate them. If students fail to show up and you educate a whole bunch of elderly people what good does that do for the student body?

  3. As Professor Crawley pointed out in his response (which is well worth a read, link here: students have plenty of opportunities on campus for entertainment. If students won’t attend an event simply because it doesn’t include a comedian or entertainer as the author of this article seems to be implying, that says more about the students of Mary Washington than the program. The article and comments in it read exactly like someone who has never bothered to attend to know whether or not the speakers are engaging. I can speak personally that while the author can’t imagine anyone enjoying a Winston Churchill lecture, that the speaker was extremely engaging (he’s the same one who did Sherlock Holmes last year and James Bond the year before). And Dodd Auditorium was packed. Anyone with criticism of the series should at least bother to attend and offer constructive criticism rather than looking at the schedule and saying “that seems boring” and then pretending they speak for all students.

  4. Romadon Stovall

    I have attended plenty of speakers just because your one of the five students who shows up to great lives doesn’t mean you have to lecture about them as if they are the greatest thing. And next time you feel like writing me a whole novel don’t.. I got half way through your last “statement” and could not continue.