Winter Park Institute Speaker Series – Special Section

By Randy Noles
Last year, Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame captivated a full house at Warden Arena with his trademark gentle humor and even some songs. Keillor also spent time on the Rollins College campus interacting with students.

Since the 1920s, Rollins College has brought preeminent scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, writers, activists and thought leaders to campus — not only for lectures and performances, but to engage in direct and meaningful ways with students, faculty and the community.

For the past decade, the Winter Park Institute (WPI) at Rollins College has continued that role as a nucleus of creativity, critical thinking and intellectual engagement through its popular Speaker Series.

WPI’s 10th anniversary roster has just been announced, and as usual it’s an eclectic bunch — ranging from a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, to a Hong Kong-born designer whose public art installations have popped up in more than 2,000 cities worldwide, to a presidential granddaughter turned world-hunger activist.

There’s also a retired astronaut who holds seven graduate degrees and is the only person to have flown on all five space shuttle orbiters, and an internationally renowned sports legend known for incisive commentary and cultural criticism.

As usual, there’ll be an intimate reading by Billy Collins, a former two-term U.S. poet laureate who holds the post as WPI’s senior distinguished fellow. “I always look forward to these Winter Park presentations,” says Collins. “It’s wonderful to appear before a hometown audience, and to see so many friends and neighbors.”

Speaker Series fall guests, dates and venues are as follows: historian Jon Meacham (Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); world-hunger activist Lauren Bush Lauren (Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); and the bestselling Collins (Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium).

The season continues into 2018, when WPI will host artist and urban designer Candy Chang (Thursday, January 18, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel); retired astronaut Story Musgrave (Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium); and NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Warden Arena in the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center).

Hey, we said it would be an eclectic roster.

Up until the 2016-17 season, admission to WPI Speaker Series events had been free to the public. However, some marquee names attracted such large crowds that attendees were inconvenienced by long lines — and vexed by the uncertainty of securing seats.

So a ticketed model was introduced that guaranteed seating and eliminated the need to arrive hours early and jostle for position. Rollins students, faculty and staff are still admitted free, while members of the general public may choose from several ticketing options.

Ticket prices vary by speaker. Go to for more information, or call the box office at 407-646-2145.

“We found that our audiences were grateful for the enhanced organization and the reduced hassle,” says WPI Executive Director Gail Sinclair. “People are happy to pay a relatively low cost for both the convenience and the opportunity to hear truly engaging speakers. Overall, the transition went very smoothly.”


If you’re a Rollins student, imagine a screenwriting workshop with Garrison Keillor, a social justice discussion with George Takei, a master class in string instruments with Itzhak Perlman, a women’s studies seminar with Gloria Steinem, or a tour of Eatonville with Julian Bond. How about vocal coaching from Marilyn Horne, or filmmaking tips from Ken Burns?

“The WPI Speaker Series is perhaps more important now than ever because it raises the level of discourse and exposes people — students and the broader community — to new ideas and to people making a positive difference,” says Rollins President Grant Cornwell. “We all need to be reminded that, regardless of the headlines on any given day, there are extraordinary people out there who are making the world a better place.”

Guests of the WPI Speaker Series have won Academy Awards, Tony Awards, Emmy Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, National Medals of the Arts, Presidential Medals of Freedom and even French Legions of Honor. Three have been Kennedy Center Honorees and one has earned a Nobel Peace Prize.

The opportunity for visiting luminaries to work directly with students and faculty is at the heart of WPI’s mission. So its Speaker Series is far more multilayered than the public presentations that have cumulatively drawn more than 50,000 people to the Rollins campus.


After spending time on campus with students and faculty, WPI Speaker Series guests offer public presentations that have become cherished and eagerly anticipated events in Winter Park and throughout Central Florida.

Audiences have eavesdropped as Billy Collins explored the creative process with Paul Simon and Sir Paul McCartney; listened to Jean Michael Cousteau, Thane Maynard and John Cronin discuss the future of the natural environment; marveled at the perseverance and heroism of Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords; and chuckled along with Bill Bryson as he described the foibles of society in the U.S. and the U.K.

These programs represent a small sampling of the enlightened conversations that the WPI Speaker Series engenders, both on campus and throughout the region. “Members of the audience leave energized and better equipped to engage with others,” says Sinclair. “Raising the level of awareness about important artistic and societal issues has a profound ripple effect.”

The origins of the WPI Speaker Series can be traced to 1927, when Rollins President Hamilton Holt (above left) and Professor of Books Edwin Osgood Grover (above right) launched the Animated Magazine, which wasn’t a print publication but a live event featuring an eclectic array of speakers. Among the luminaries were (below, clockwise, top to bottom) actor James Cagney, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, poet Carl Sandburg and educator Mary McLeod Bethune. Photo of Holt and Grover Courtesy of the Rollins College Archives


Rollins has a long tradition of leading important conversations. In 1927, several hundred spectators gathered in the Recreation Hall on the shores of Lake Virginia to witness the first “edition” of the Rollins College Animated Magazine.

It wasn’t a printed publication, but a live event that featured presentations from novelists Irving Bacheller and Rex Beach, poets Cale Young Rice and Jessie Rittenhouse, humorist Opie Read and journalist Albert Shaw.

The Animated Magazine was the brainchild of Professor Edwin Osgood Grover and President Hamilton Holt, who designated themselves the “editor” and the “publisher,” respectively.

Over the years, speakers included journalist Edward R. Murrow; actors Mary Pickford, Greer Garson and James Cagney; FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune; U.S. Army generals Omar Bradley and Jonathan Wainwright; and authors Carl Sandburg, Willa Cather and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

In 1931, Holt and legendary educator John Dewey convened “The Curriculum for the Liberal Arts College,” a conference that proposed a groundbreaking approach to liberal education — still based on the arts and sciences, but also calling for active citizenship and civic service. The assembly attracted national attention, and the service-based educational model that emerged was adopted by Rollins and other colleges.

Rollins honored the 75th anniversary of this seminal gathering with the 2007 “Colloquy on Liberal Education and Social Responsibility in a Global Community.” Poet Maya Angelou, political scientist Francis Fukuyama, astronaut Sally Ride, author Salman Rushdie, biologist E.O. Wilson and others met to explore the social, political and economic themes shaping education in the 21st century.

WPI was formed as a result of the successful colloquy, renewing Holt’s and Grover’s vision of bringing thought leaders to Winter Park — and facilitating energetic and exciting discourse on campus and beyond its borders.

Today, speakers with high public profiles, such as Keillor in 2016, pack the Warden Arena at the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center, while those who have earned acclaim in more specific areas of endeavor fill more intimate venues on campus.

On the following pages are spotlights on 2017-18 WPI Speaker Series participants, as well as dates, venues and ticket prices.


Winter Park Institute Speaker Series includes an author,
an entrepreneur, a poet, an artist, an astronaut
and an NBA legend.

Photos by Esther Lin (Abdul-Jabbar) and Bill Hayes (Collins)


Jon Meacham: Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel.
The Art of Leadership: Lessons from the American Presidency.
Prices:  $40, $30, $20

Lauren Bush Lauren: Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 p.m., Tiedtke Concert Hall.
How to FEED the World, One Bag at a Time.
Prices:  $25, $15, $10

Billy Collins: Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium.
Beyond the Birdbath:  Poems from Several Time Zones.
Prices:  $25, $15, $10

Candy Chang: Thursday, January 18, 7:30 p.m., Tiedtke Concert Hall.
Before I Die: A Participatory Art Installation.
Prices:  $25, $15, $10

Story Musgrave: Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium.
Farm Kid to Rocket Man and Beyond: Personal Exploration, Excellence and Evolution.
Prices:  $25, $15, $10

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m., Warden Arena in the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center.
Writings on the Wall: An Evening with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Prices:  $50, $40, $30, $20, $15

Tickets: Go to for more information, or call the box office at 407-646-2145. Packages that include smaller meet-and-greet events are available for some speakers.


Meacham has earned critical kudos for his carefully researched but highly readable works on American history. His specialty is presidential leadership, and he is frequently called upon by television network news programs to provide commentary on national political developments. Photo by Gasper Triangle (Meacham)

Jon Meacham

Tuesday, September 12, 7:30 p.m., Knowles Memorial Chapel
The Art of Leadership: Lessons from the American Presidency

Nobody is more qualified to discuss presidential leadership — and to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our assorted commanders in chief — than Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian. In fact, as the decidedly unconventional Trump presidency unfolds, Meacham has been called upon more frequently than ever to do just that through appearances in national publications and on television programs.

But even before Trump’s ascendancy, Meacham was one of the leading public intellectuals in the U.S., writing award-winning books and providing historical context for issues related to politics, religion and world affairs.

His most recent presidential biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (Random House, 2015), debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list. The book, according to the Times, “reflects the qualities of both subject and biographer: judicious, balanced, deliberative, with a deep appreciation of history and the personalities who shape it.”

The courtly, Chattanooga-born Meacham’s previous bestsellers include Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power and American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, which won the Pulitzer Prize for biography.

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship explores the complex relationship between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II, while American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation analyzes the role of religious belief in early American governance.

Meacham, a former editor of Newsweek, is a contributing editor at Time and a columnist for The New York Times Book Review. He’s a mainstay on numerous national news programs, and is a distinguished visiting professor of history at the University of the South as well as a visiting professor of history at Vanderbilt University.

A trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the Andrew Jackson Foundation, Meacham also chairs the National Advisory Council of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in  St. Louis.

The Anti-Defamation League awarded Meacham its Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Prize in 2006, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania presented him with its Founder’s Award in 2013. Meacham received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University in 2005, and holds several other honorary doctorates. He’s currently at work on a biography of James and Dolley Madison.

Although she has politics in her DNA, Lauren became a fashion model and a clothing designer whose social consciousness led her to co-found FEED, a business whose mission is to “create good products that help FEED the world.”

Lauren Bush Lauren

Tuesday, October 10, 7:30 p.m., Tiedtke Concert Hall
How to FEED the World, One Bag at a Time

Lauren Bush Lauren, a granddaughter of former President George H.W. Bush and a niece of former President George W. Bush and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, might have chosen a career in politics.

Instead she became a fashion model and a clothing designer whose social consciousness led her to co-found FEED, a business whose mission is to “create good products that help FEED the world.”

Her passion for battling hunger came to the forefront in 2004, when she was named honorary student spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Program. In that role, she traveled to an array of countries and learned firsthand about issues of poverty and deprivation.

Back in the U.S., Lauren — who’s married to the son of fashion designer Ralph Lauren, which explains the twin first and last names — designed the FEED 1 bag, which when purchased would feed one school-aged child for one year.

Today, FEED bags are sold in a variety of models, including duffel bags, backpacks and totes. Each is emblazoned with a numerical value that indicates how many children are fed from the proceeds.

Most FEED merchandise — manufactured under fair-labor conditions using organic or environmentally friendly materials — is sold online at The World Food Program administers the distribution of funds and food.

Although FEED — which Lauren serves as CEO — isn’t a nonprofit, the company gives away most of its earnings. That’s why Lauren describes the enterprise as “social entrepreneurism.”

Whatever you choose to call it, since its inception in 2007 FEED has provided more than 94 million meals around the world, primarily in Africa and East Asia. In the U.S., FEED works through Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.

Additionally, the company has forged successful partnerships with such companies as Clarins, Disney, DKNY, Gap, Godiva, Links of London, Pottery Barn, Rachel Roy, Target, Tory Burch, Toms and Whole Foods.

Lauren, a graduate of Princeton University, is also chairman of the board of the FEED Foundation, a related nonprofit that supports other programs working to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition.

For her work with FEED, Lauren was named one of Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs” in 2009, and one of Inc. magazine’s “30 Under 30” in 2010. She has also received awards from various humanitarian organizations.

You don’t often find poetry collections on The New York Times bestseller list — unless they’re written by Billy Collins, the former two-term U.S. poet laureate and WPI senior distinguished fellow who calls Winter Park home. Photo by Bill Hayes

Billy Collins

Wednesday, November 8, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium
Beyond the Birdbath: Poems from Several Time Zones

Former two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins is a cultural phenomenon. His most recent collection of poetry, last year’s The Rain in Portugal, scaled The New York Times bestseller list — an anomaly for poetry — and cemented Collins’ reputation as the poet for people who think they don’t like poetry.

But that’s not the only reason his 2016 reading from the WPI Speaker Series drew a standing-room-only crowd. As WPI’s senior distinguished fellow and a Winter Park resident, Collins has also been adopted by locals as their favorite resident celebrity — no offense to Carrot Top — and the most important literary figure to have a Winter Park address since novelist Irving Bacheller (Eben Holden: A Tale from the North Country) lived here before World War II.

But while Bacheller is little-remembered, Collins — an effective advocate for his genre — will undoubtedly be read generations from now just as eagerly as he is today. His last three collections have broken sales records for poetry, and he’s a fixture on National Public Radio. Fans from around the U.S. pack his appearances from coast to coast.

It’s not that Collins is loud or flashy. The poems themselves — combined with their author’s wry, poignant and at times self-deprecating stage persona — are what engage and delight audiences.

The typical Collins poem opens on a clear and hospitable note, but soon takes an unexpected turn; works that begin ironically may end surprisingly. No wonder Collins sees his poetry as “a form of travel writing” and considers humor “a door into the serious.”

About Collins, the poet Stephen Dunn has said, “We seem to always know where we are in a Billy Collins poem, but not necessarily where he is going. I love to arrive with him at his arrivals. He doesn’t hide things from us, as I think lesser poets do. He allows us to overhear, clearly, what he himself has discovered.”

Collins served as U.S. poet laureate from 2001 to 2003, and as New York State poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. Other honors and awards include the Mark Twain Prize for Humor in Poetry — he was the inaugural recipient — as well as fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1992, he was chosen by the New York Public Library to serve as “Literary Lion.”

Last year Collins was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of the country’s 250 leading architects, artists, composers and writers. Founding members included William Merritt Chase, Kenyon Cox, Daniel Chester French, Childe Hassam, Henry James, Theodore Roosevelt, Elihu Vedder and Woodrow Wilson.

Chang is best known for her public art installation, Before I Die. But she’s found plenty of other ways to transform and enliven mundane urban spaces. In Hong Kong, for example, she hung official-looking signs that identify areas where “kissing, crying or freaking out” are encouraged. Photo by Cary Norton

Candy Chang

Thursday, January 18, 7:30 p.m., Tiedtke Concert Hall
Before I Die: A Participatory Art Installation

Candy Chang, an artist and urban designer, lost a close friend to death in 2009. While grieving and contemplating the preciousness of life, she hit upon the idea of morphing an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood into an art installation that would encourage people to consider what they wished to accomplish in the years allotted to them.

So she turned the side of the forlorn structure into a giant chalkboard bearing the stenciled words, “Before I die, I want to_________” Almost immediately, hundreds of blanks were filled in with observations that were at times funny, at times heartbreaking and at times inspiring. The idea caught on, and now Before I Die installations have spread to more than 2,000 cities in 70 countries worldwide.

Chang, whose TED Talk about the project is now approaching 5 million views, uses Before I Die installations to coax passersby into sharing everything from their greatest hopes to their deepest anxieties. The Atlantic has called Before I Die “one of the most creative community projects ever.”

In her captivating talks, Chang demystifies the creative process and inspires personal reflection. Through the activation of public spaces, she provokes playful and profound visions for how people can connect and nurture the health of their communities.

Her book, Before I Die (St. Martin’s Griffin) features walls from around the world and has received wide media coverage.

Before I Die is one of many thought-provoking ways in which Chang has transformed urban nooks and crannies. She also has created interactive installations on vacant storefronts, inviting people to share what they hope will eventually occupy the spaces. She has opened a confessional sanctuary in a Las Vegas casino, and has hung official-looking signs in Hong Kong that identify areas where “kissing, crying and freaking out” are encouraged. The tech-savvy Chang has even designed a software program,, which enables civic leaders to engage with residents and prioritize issues of local importance.

Chang’s work has been exhibited in the Venice Biennale of Architecture, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York and Tate Modern in London. She was also named one of the “Top 100 Leaders in Public Interest Design” by Impact Design Hub and a “Live Your Best Life Local Hero” by O: The Oprah Magazine.

“Candy Chang’s art serves as a wake-up call in our fast-paced digital age,” writes Ad Age. “Armed with little more than chalk, labels or post-it notes, she transforms nondescript urban spaces into compelling works that inspire the often device-obsessed masses to engage with each other, and the world around them.”

Musgrave, the most educated astronaut ever, is the only person to have flown on all five space shuttles. Most notably, he was the lead spacewalker on Endeavor, from which he made repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Story Musgrave

Tuesday, March 6, 7:30 p.m., Bush Auditorium
Farm Kid to Rocket Man and Beyond: Personal Exploration, Excellence and Evolution

Astronauts, simply by virtue of their being astronauts, are assumed to be braver and smarter than most of us. What, then, to make of Story Musgrave, who retired from NASA in 1997? He’s the only astronaut to have flown on all five space shuttles. And, prior to John Glenn’s return to space in 1998, he held the record for being the oldest person to orbit the earth, at age 61.

If that weren’t enough, he’s also the most educated astronaut ever, with a medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons — he’s a specialist in physiology and aerospace medicine — as well as an MBA in operations analysis and computer programming from the University of California, Los Angeles.

And then there’s an M.S. in physiology and biophysics from the University of Kentucky and an M.A. in literature from the University of Houston–Clear Lake. Oh, and there are also 20 honorary doctorates.

All those eclectic degrees make more sense when you consider that Musgrave’s hobbies include literary criticism and poetry as well as microcomputers, parachuting, hang gliding and scuba diving.

Musgrave, a native of Massachusetts who was raised in Kentucky, wasn’t a particularly bookish youngster. As a child, he sought solace from family dysfunction by exploring nature, which he described as “a place in which there was beauty; a place in which there was order.”

He dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marines during the Korean War. Over the next 58 years — while simultaneously accumulating all those degrees — Musgrave racked up more than 18,000 hours as a pilot, and experienced more than 800 free falls as a parachutist. Many of those death-defying jumps were experiments related to the study of human aerodynamics.

He was an astronaut for more than three decades, and performed the first spacewalk on space shuttle Challenger’s first flight. He was also the lead spacewalker on Endeavor, from which he performed repairs on the Hubble Space Telescope. “People love Hubble images,” Musgrave has said. “It tells them where they’re from; it tells them where they’re going. It ties it all together.”

Today, Musgrave is a consultant to Walt Disney Imagineering, a multimedia producer and director, a landscape architect and a professor of design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He’s also an in-demand speaker on topics related to design-driven innovation, project management and human performance.

As an NBA superstar, Abdul-Jabbar perfected an impossible-to-defend sky hook. As an author and social justice activist, he has written more than a dozen books and numerous op-eds for national publications. Photo by Dan Winters

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Wednesday, April 4, 7:30 p.m.,
Warden Arena in the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center
Writings on the Wall: An Evening with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, and is arguably the greatest ever to play the game.

During his career as a center, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a record 19-time NBA All-Star. A member of six NBA championship teams as a player and two as an assistant coach, Abdul-Jabbar twice was voted NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, and is the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points.

But if all you remember about Abdul-Jabbar was his impossible-to-defend sky hook, then you’ve somehow missed out on his longstanding commitment to social activism.

In the summer of 1968, while attending UCLA, he converted to Sunni Islam and, later, changed his name from Lew Alcindor. He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics in protest of racial prejudice.

Today, at age 70, Abdul-Jabbar might no longer be able to suit up and scorch an opposing team for 50 points. But his political commentary remains a slam dunk. His thought-provoking op-eds routinely appear in the Washington Post and Time magazine, among other national publications.

Abdul-Jabbar’s recent book, Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White (Time Books), is a bestseller that offers his perspective on social issues in an era of increased polarization.

Abdul-Jabbar has written or co-written about a dozen books, many of them dealing with race. But he has also written a novel, last summer’s Mycroft Holmes (Titan Books), about the adventures of Sherlock’s more savvy older brother. The thriller was adapted as a comic book series.

In June, Abdul-Jabbar released Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court (Grand Central Publishing). It’s a poignant memoir about his enduring bond with UCLA Head Coach John Wooden.

Late last year, Abdul-Jabbar’s HBO Sports documentary, Kareem: Minority of One, debuted as the highest-rated sports documentary in the network’s history.

Abdul-Jabbar currently serves as chairman of his Skyhook Foundation, whose function is to “give kids a shot that can’t be blocked” by promoting STEM education in underserved communities. President Barack Obama presented Abdul-Jabbar with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

The Winter Park Institute at Rollins College makes its home at Osceola Lodge, a few blocks north of the campus. The Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation offered the house for WPI’s use for administrative offices and a study center for its scholars in residence. The house was built in the 1880s by Winter Park pioneer Francis B. Knowles, and later expanded and occupied by philanthropist Charles Hosmer Morse, who developed much of Winter Park in the early 1900s.


Programming at the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College is made possible with generous underwriting by organizations, businesses and individuals who value literary achievement, intellectual stimulation and artistic accomplishments by individuals who are at the pinnacle of their careers and thrive on a global scale. Sponsorships are available for every imaginable level of interest. The Presenting Sponsor for WPI is Rollins College, which underwrites operations and provides necessary resources. In addition, the college is a prestigious sponsor partner for organizations (or individuals) wishing to reach an educated, affluent, involved and interesting audience. The “reach” is unparalleled in this market. Of course, basic levels of underwriting are available, as are co-sponsorship packages, through which you may partner with colleagues and receive an entire season of quality exposure. For a more detailed conversation about sponsorship opportunities or how you can get more involved with WPI, call Dr. Gail Sinclair directly for additional details and information at 407-691-1706.

Share This Post