Most-Popular Skeptics Lecturers
To commemorate Skeptics’ latest milestone—more than 40 continuous years of weekly presentations during the school year—program director Dr. Miller offers his personal recollections of some of the most memorable lecturers who have visited Blair, addressed students and, as tradition often dictated, enjoyed coffee with faculty members and stayed overnight at Dr. Miller’s on-campus home.
John C. Bogle '47
Chairman Emeritus of the Blair Board of Trustees Jack Bogle began one Skeptics talk by focusing on failure. Yes, he performed poorly in his first outing in the business world—and, indeed, this stumble was a blessing in disguise. He went on to found and lead The Vanguard Group, Inc., creating a veritable investment industry along the way. A student asked about the college courses necessary to enter Jack Bogle’s rarefied world. He replied: “Why not get a good liberal arts education? We can teach you the rest. When you are 45 and have made some money, you will want to have something to say beyond financial matters.”
In 2012, this famed business leader, public intellectual and Blair uncle did the impossible: garnering the attention of the entire student body by talking about critical economic issues such as the U.S. housing bubble, the problematic growth of the financial sector and the Eurozone in crisis—no small task. After deeming his prepared speech too long without enough time for questions, the PIMCO CEO rewrote his lecture late the night before he visited campus. Students and faculty alike took their hats off to Mohamed El-Erian for his ability to explain complex concepts with understandable and accessible metaphors.
Author and award-winning documentary photographer Alison Wright has addressed the Society of Skeptics on multiple occasions about her more than two-decade career traveling the globe as a photojournalist, documenting human rights issues and the beauty, struggles, and traditions of indigenous cultures. In addition to sharing her experiences photographing the world’s most remote regions for publications such as National Geographic, Time and The New York Times, the 2013 National Geographic Traveler of the Year talked about critical cultural, environmental and human-health issues she has witnessed in developing countries.
Tony Kornheiser, co-host of ESPN’s Emmy-award-winning Pardon the Interruption and award-winning writer for The Washington Post, came to Blair twice for lively question-and-answer sessions with students and faculty members. Dr. Miller remembers him as being feisty, irreverent and humorous in his responses. Mr. Kornheiser offered students advice about entering the field of sports broadcasting and gave them an overview of his own career highlights, which included working as a sportswriter and commentator on Monday Night Football.
The famed survivor of the Cambodian “Killing Fields” spoke at Skeptics on a number of occasions before he passed away in 2008. Rapt students asked provocative questions during lively question-and-answer periods. One student asked: “When escaping the genocidal Khmer Rouge, what was it like crawling through the mud and encountering poisonous snakes?” His answer: “Those were the good days with plenty of food to eat.” Another student inquired: “How does one live after losing 40 family members?” His practical reply: “What choice do you have?”
Christine Todd Whitman
Politically moderate former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) director, New Jersey Governor and outdoors-lover Christine Whitman expressed regret that she failed to accomplish more during her tenure as head of the EPA during George W. Bush’s administration. The Governor also shared how hard work, determination, support and, yes, luck transformed her from a middling student to an important figure in the halls of national political power. The call to public service resounded throughout the auditorium.
A former child soldier in Sierra Leone's civil wars and author of A Long Way Gone spoke at Blair on two memorable occasions. He had lunch with an excited group of world history students and practiced with the soccer teams in the afternoon, all as a warm-up to a rousing, informative lecture in the evening. How does one transform from an armed child automaton prepared to murder on command into an educated, deeply moral adult who is a United Nations spokesman? It was a long, tortuous and unlikely path. The ghosts lingering in Armstrong-Hipkins’ DuBois Theatre were those of child soldiers and their victims whose lives ended on the battleground of African civil strife.
Louis Cirillo '08
Entrepreneur and CEO Louis Cirillo founded a start-up company called VirtualU, which developed a 3D modeling system capable of producing a lifelike digital avatar from a person’s body so that customers can accurately “try on” apparel without having to go to the store. By mid-2013, shoppers could walk into a number of stores—including Gucci, Jos A. Bank, Victoria Secret and J. Crew—to get modeled and later virtually try clothes on by visiting an integrated website. Louis joined three other recent Blair graduates at the School’s annual Young Alumni Skeptics Panel, which introduces students to alumni in their 20s who are doing interesting work in a variety of professional fields.
Ronn Cort P'15
Bringing to the forum his expertise in polymer plastics and 3-D printing, president of SEKISUI Polymer Innovations (SPI) Ronn Cort P’15 addressed the Society of Skeptics on the latest technology and innovation in additive manufacturing and how it will change the shape and scope of many industries in the next decade. SPI is a division of SEKISUI Chemical Company, an $11-billion-dollar Japanese specialty chemical and plastics company. Mr. Cort's work yields specialty thermoplastic polymers that are used in a variety of applications, such as commercial aviation and military aircrafts, high-speed trains and alternative-fuel buses for mass transit, and imaging and scanning devices in the medical field.