There once was a time (less than a year ago, believe it or not) when terms such as “COVID,” “social distancing” and “Zoom” were not part of our everyday vocabulary. Back then, Cameron University faculty and staff were busy planning an academic festival for the 2020-2021 term.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Cameron’s academic festivals, these are privately funded, year-long explorations made up of workshops, events and special speakers that consider topics worthy of in-depth study. Held once every three years, the upcoming festival is the eleventh installment in a series that dates back to 1991. That academic year, Cameron celebrated the “Year of the Renaissance,” which compared the historic Renaissance with the resurgence of knowledge in America spurred by the approaching millennium.

Subsequent festivals examined such topics as cultural diversity, advances in science and technology, globalization, the importance of health and wellness, the challenges of sustainability, and what it means to be an American in the 21st century. Featured speakers over the years include such now-familiar names as Rick Bayless, Jocelyn Elders, Paul Krugman, Al Roker, Cornel West, George Will, Fareed Zakaria, and generals Jack Keane and Stanley McChrystal.

Cameron’s latest academic festival is underway. Its topic – “Connections: Information Transfer Between People” – was selected before the pandemic began, but could not be more timely. Festival XI will examine the ways that we work, communicate with one another and share information in an ever-changing world. Technology had already made it possible to work from home, get online medical advice, stay in touch with friends remotely, be politically active, and get news and entertainment on hand-held devices, but the events of 2020 took it to an entirely new level. They have also created uncertainty and stress in every aspect of our personal and professional lives.

How we manage and respond to stress will be addressed by our first Festival XI speaker, mental health advocate Frank Warren. His interactive multimedia event, “PostSecret Live,” will be presented at Cameron on Tuesday, Sept. 22. Warren created the “PostSecret Project” to demonstrate the power of sharing hopes, dreams, fears and failures. It started as a community mail-art project in which people anonymously shared never-before-voiced secrets, but soon became one of the most visited web blogs in the world. Since its creation, it has raised more than $1 million for suicide prevention and earned Warren a lifetime achievement award for mental health advocacy.

Generational workplace expert Lynn Lancaster will come to campus on Nov. 10. Lancaster will share her understanding of traditionalists, baby boomers, Generation Xers and millennials, and how they interact with each other. We all need to know more about the intergenerational interactions of these groups, whether we are struggling to recruit and retain them in the workforce, seeking to connect with them in the marketplace, or just trying to live and work with them. At Cameron, many of our new students were born in a different century than those of us who serve them. Lancaster will offer advice on how to lead, manage, market, and communicate effectively in a multi-generational world.

Our final featured speaker, on March 25, 2021, is Talithia Williams, an author, professor and host of the PBS series, “NOVA Wonders.” Williams has made it her life’s work to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited about the bold possibilities of STEM education – the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – and to encourage females and minorities to enter these professions. Renowned for her popular TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” she advocates for all of us to use data as a way to take charge of our own health.

In addition to our speakers, Cameron will present a number of theatrical productions tied to our festival theme, starting with “Fahrenheit 451” on Oct. 1-4 and based on Ray Bradbury’s best-selling novel. The CU Alumni Association is also seeking entries for its inaugural “Aggie Art Walk” in our Fine Arts Courtyard. As we move further into the academic year, expect more of our departments to develop workshops and events tied to the “Connections” festival theme.

We are grateful to the McCasland Foundation in Duncan, the primary sponsor of our academic festival series. Additional funding has been provided by the Cameron University Foundation and CU’s Lectures and Concerts Series. The support of these groups allows us to present our academic festivals without using taxpayer dollars or student tuition.

Planning and executing these events amidst the uncertainty of 2020 have been challenging. We have adapted by using social distancing and technology to make Festival XI available to as many individuals as possible. I invite you to visit our campus later this month to hear Frank Warren. This is a free event open to the public, but since seating is limited due to current COVID guidelines, tickets must be reserved in advance. To obtain tickets or read more about Warren and out other featured speakers, please visit www.cameron.edu/festivalxi. And don’t forget to bring your mask.

John McArthur is president of Cameron University



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