The Colgate Scene
July 1999
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Sharing important moments

The concluding conference of the Center for Ethics and World Societies coincided with Reunion -- fortunate timing for both

by James Leach
panel discussion
Professor Mary Moran introduced participants in a panel discussion of Arms and the Arts: Africa's Unequal Dialogue: (left to right) Colgate's Harvey Sindima, Hamilton College's Vince Odamtten, and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.
Nobel Laureate and Holocaust witness Elie Wiesel had planned to be on campus Reunion Weekend as the keynote speaker when the Center for Ethics and World Societies concluded its inaugural year with the conference Disturbing History: Art Out of Atrocity.

     A week before the conference, in a call to Professor of English Peter Balakian, the center's 1998/99 director, Wiesel said that he had been asked by President Clinton to travel to Kosovo. What could he do to keep his commitment to Colgate and at the same time serve his country's president?

     With Jim Bona '75 as cameraman, Balakian hopped a van to New York and, on the day prior to Wiesel's departure, conducted an impromptu interview that would provide the centerpiece for the opening session of the conference. Chris Hedges '79, war correspondent for The New York Times and himself a scheduled participant in the conference, joined Balakian and Wiesel for the interview.

     Colgate's Memorial Chapel was filled for the keynote session as alumni and their families, back for reunion, joined those who had journeyed to campus strictly as conference participants. What they experienced was personal and immediate. On a tape that was edited to 20 minutes, Wiesel responded to questions from Balakian and Hedges with reflections from his own life and insights into the war that at that time was fully engaged in Kosovo. As the tape concluded, the Chapel audience sat rapt as Balakian telephoned Wiesel, whose live description of what he had just witnessed in Kosovo was broadcast over the Chapel's public address system.

Keynote, Rodat, and Hedges
Left: Elie Wiesel's keynote remarks to the opening session of the conference were delivered by telephone in response to questions from Professor Peter Balakian, shown here placing the call from the Chapel stage.    Center: Robert Rodat '75 shared an author's insights into the writing of Saving Private Ryan.    Right: Chris Hedges '79, war correspondent for The New York Times, left for the Balkans days after addressing the conference.

     The tape and telephone conversation were a powerful opening to a conference that attracted strong alumni attendance and participation throughout the weekend. In addition to the distinguished visitors (Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka among them) and Colgate faculty who presented sessions, author Robert Rodat '75 (Saving Private Ryan) and correspondent Hedges attracted capacity audiences for their talks at the conference.

     Rodat's descriptions of the thinking and process that went into the making of Private Ryan were intercut with scenes from the movie during an afternoon session that packed Love Auditorium. Alumni from across reunion classes raised questions; especially knowing seemed to be those from the World War II veterans from classes in the '40s. A comment from Donald Hester M'79 concluded Rodat's presentation. Hester, who had been evacuated during the bombing in London, said that Private Ryan and another Steven Spielberg film, Schindler's List, had "validated my pain in a way that I haven't been able to put into words before this afternoon."

     Hedges filled the auditorium in Persson Hall for his morning presentation that centered largely on the situation in Kosovo. "Most of my reporting has been from conflicted areas," said Hedges, whose assignments have taken him behind the lines in Central America, the Middle East and the Balkans (where he has served as the Times bureau chief). His reporting includes some of the earliest contacts with the Kosovo Liberation Army, and he captivated the standing-room-only crowd with insights and anecdotes from his experiences. That afternoon, Hedges joined another panel for a discussion of "The Fate of Culture Amidst Violence in the Post-Soviet World."

     The entire concluding conference of the Center for Ethics and World Societies was not only an important gathering in its own right, but as many participants learned, a fitting extension of a reunion college that has brought a new and welcome dimension to the college's annual spring gathering. JL

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