Archive for Thursday, September 20, 2007

Roberts touts local history at Baker University’s convocation

September 20, 2007

Journalist, political commentator and author Cokie Roberts has witnessed, studied and written plenty about history.

But she told Baker University students, faculty and alumni that single sentences or dates in a history book don't provide a complete picture, especially settling on the "wild and woolly" Kansas frontier in the 1850s.

"It doesn't give you any sense of what a great, incredible undertaking that would be," Roberts said.

The senior news analyst for National Public Radio and political commentator for ABC News was in Baldwin City to help the university celebrate the beginning of its 150th year. During the university convocation, Roberts was the 2007 Loreine Collins Dietrich Distinguished Lecturer in front of about 1,000 people at a packed Rice Auditorium.

To prepare for her speech, Roberts studied Baker's history and its ties to Bleeding Kansas, in the early days of the Civil War.

"It was such a thing to do, to start this place, at that time, with these ideas," she said, noting the community's support for education and the founders' stance that the university be coed.

Roberts said she has always been fascinated by the toughness of pioneer women who helped settle the area. Pioneer families had to deal with harsh conditions and disease.

Leading up to the Civil War, many people moved to Kansas to help populate the state with anti-slavery voters.

"They came here to have the great national fight, the defining fight of this nation -- the fight over slavery,"

The hugely divisive issue of that era trumps today's partisan political climate, she said, because the nation has healed over generations.

She encouraged Baker's faculty and students to help foster the ideas set forth in the Constitution and honor history by collaborating with each other and participating in democracy by voting and performing public service.

"We really have to continue to contribute to the idea," she said. "So you can truly honor the people who came before us."

Baker President Pat Long referred to Roberts as "our newest alum" after the university awarded her with an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Roberts addressed an overflow crowd and she spent the afternoon on campus, including participating on a panel for Baker journalism students. The panel included Baker alum Harold Jackson, editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Past speakers in the Loreine Collins Dietrich Distinguished Lecture Series include President Gerald Ford and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Baker will celebrate its sesquicentennial throughout the school year, including Feb. 12, to honor its charter in 1858.

"One hundred and 50 years of memory is the same as 150 years of future," said the Rev. Ira DeSpain, university chaplain.

Highlights of Cokie Roberts' visit

After her convocation address at Baker University on Tuesday, Cokie Roberts granted an interview to the media. Here are the highlights:

  • On the climate in Washington:

"Everyone gives lip service to compromise and bipartisanship, but it's not really happening."

  • On the recent report on progress in Iraq:

"I don't think any minds were changed. I don't think anything is going to change anybody's minds. People are pretty well dug in."

  • On the approach by Democrats who want more troop cuts in Iraq:

"A place they could really make a difference would be over the funding, but that's way too dicey because they get accused of not supporting the troops."

  • On which party has the political edge:

"The voters profess to be excited about the Democratic candidates and not about the Republican candidates. Now, that all could change on a dime. Democrats are well-known for blowing it, and then events will have a tremendous impact on this election."

  • On which presidential campaigns are doing the best:

"I think (Democratic New York Senator) Hillary Clinton is doing a very good job. This campaign, it's very disciplined. ... She just sort of keeps on keeping on without getting thrown off.

... On the Republican side, the best campaign is probably (former Massachusetts Governor) Mitt Romney, but that nomination is completely up for grabs."

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