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Understanding what it means to be a U.S. citizen

Journalist David Brooks speaks at Concordia


The United States of America is at a threshold moment; Americans are striving to discern what it means to be a citizen of this nation. In this unpredictable time of change David Brooks comes to Concordia College to grapple with these meaningful questions at the President’s Seminar. President William Craft thinks we couldn’t have a better speaker for the occasion.

“I would say that, it would be hard to find anyone more searching, more compelling, and more deeply humane who can talk to us about what does it mean to be an American citizen right now at this threshold moment in our country,” Craft said. “So I think people should be hanging from the rafters and I hope they will.”

David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, author and commentator, will be featured in a two-part seminar for the fourth President’s Seminar of the Concordia 125th Anniversary series. According to Amy Kelly, communications director at Concordia, Brooks will speak on “Faith, Learning and the Arts of Citizenship.”

According to President Craft’s campus-wide e-mail, Brooks is a regular analyst on PBS Newshour as well as National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” In addition, Brooks has written numerous books. His newest novel is titled “The Road to Character.”

The lecture, which will be held in Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 9, will focus on his insights on higher education, politics and morality. The talk will be open to the community, creating a network of conscious minds in Fargo Moorhead.

It is free to attend Brooks’ talk, but tickets are required. To obtain tickets, stop by the Memorial Auditorium Box Office anytime between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The following day, on Friday, February 10, part two of the seminar will take place during Community Time from 9:20 to 10:20 a.m. in the Centrum. This is an opportunity for all students, faculty and staff to reflect upon and discuss Brooks’ ideas about what it means to be a citizen now and how these new understandings can be applied at Concordia. Dean Eric Eliason will act as a moderator during this conversation with Brooks and the campus community.

Brooks is a nationally sought-out speaker. Craft believes Concordia is fortunate to have such a unique opportunity to hear from, as well as speak with Brooks.

“I’ve heard [Brooks] talk at a meeting for college presidents several years ago and I think every president in the room said, ‘I’ve gotta get him to my campus!’” Craft said.

There are special Cobber connections to acknowledge who helped make this event possible. In his campus-wide e-mail invitation Craft wrote, “I extend thanks on behalf of the campus community to the sponsors who have so generously made David Brooks’ visit to Concordia possible: Howard and Anne Dahl, Carl and Carol Wall, Dr. Paul and Maradeth Dovre, Tom and Mary Lidahl, and Wells Fargo.”

This seminar continues the focus on Concordia’s identity and purpose, and Brooks fits very well within the theme.

“We began thinking about David Brooks in relation to the 125th anniversary of the college because Brooks is one of the most thoughtful and best known thinkers about the moral dimensions of our civic life,” Craft said.

Indeed, Brooks is recognized as a leading voice in the conversation about the development of character in human beings. Considering Concordia College strives to focus upon students’ vocation and not simply job preparation, Brooks’ message concerning what it means to be a citizen in today’s world plays beautifully within a melody of becoming responsibly engaged in the world.

Brooks was chosen for the seminar partly, because he is passionate about personal development and Craft believes this selflessness is an important component of a liberal arts education.

“Having been transformed ourselves, we then seek to transform the world. I think that Brooks is attuned to that kind of purpose and so he seemed to be ideal [to speak at Concordia],” President Craft said.

Cathy McMullen, journalism professor, also thinks that David Brooks fits well with Concordia’s mission.

“I know that he’s very interested in matters of faith and morality; what is it to be a moral person,” McMullen said. “Those are really important things that he has written about in books and that he has challenged in his TV appearances and hosting and in his columns and I think he aligns with Concordia’s values there.”

McMullen believes this event has the capacity to make an impact on Concordia’s students who are aspiring writers themselves.

“I would hope that journalism students (especially) would attend to see how journalists can play a role as a public intellectual, and really to see a model of a well informed opinion writer and pundit,” McMullen said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much homework and research goes into it.”

Many faculty and staff are enthusiastic about the event. Among them, McMullen is excited herself to learn from Brooks.

“I want to hear what he has to say about the tumultuous, fractured political season we are living in,” McMullen said.

In his campus-wide e-mail invitation to Brooks’ talk, Craft encourages all attendants to read Brooks’ New York Times op-ed column titled, “The Big University” from October 6, 2015, in order to prepare for the presentation. This article serves as an introduction into the topic of the purpose of higher education. Brooks shares his opinions on how colleges and universities should foster an environment of personal growth. Specifically, Brooks pushes for programs that focus on the whole student not just the intellectual side, but also the emotional spiritual and moral aspects as well.

In this article Brooks writes, “The trick is to find a way to talk about moral and spiritual things while respecting diversity.”

Brooks’ seminar and unifying message is coming to Concordia at a time of both celebration and uncertainty in regards to this divisive election year.

“I think he [Brooks] will push us to think about what do we do, what do we do if we’re really happy about how things turned out in November, what do we do if we’re not happy at all and how do we turn to one another and figure things out for the sake of our parents, our children, our neighbors here and our neighbors far away,” Craft said. “For some of us that may mean asking some hard questions about what does it mean to be the loyal opposition. For others it may mean what does it mean to be the morally responsible majority — if majority means do you control the White House and the Congress — and of course that has shifted back and forth throughout the life of our country.”

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