Best of Scene

Mondale pushes students beyond U.S. borders

By Ingrid Stegemoeller ’07
Judaism or Buddhism? Religions of China or Japan? First-year Emily Hoppler Treichler hasn’t decided which religion course to take, but she has come to an important realization.

She used to think she wanted to fulfill her religion general university requirements with classes about Christianity, but after hearing former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale speak, she’s changed her mind.

“Now I want to take something less mainstream,” Hoppler Treichler said. “I’m more interested in classes that will open my mind rather than confirm what I believe.”

Hoppler Treichler, a reporter for the university’s student-run newspaper, The Mast, was one of a handful of students who interviewed Mondale one-on-one during his February 23 visit to campus.

Hoppler Treichler said her interview with Mondale helped her recognize the importance of her contribution to the world conversation.

Mondale, who served under President Jimmy Carter from 1977-81, was the keynote speaker for PLU’s World Conversations event (see Here and Now). His speech to about 450 members of the PLU community challenged students to learn about other cultures and global issues, and to stretch their minds to understand international affairs.

The World Conversations event, held Feb. 22-23, brought together students, faculty and guests to discuss J-Term study-away experiences and place them in a larger context. Those who traveled abroad shared their thoughts on justice, health, sustainability and peace in a series of panels and forums that were punctuated by several musical and cultural events.

The event, part of the continuing public symposia sponsored by the Wang Center for International Programs, coincided with the center’s fifth anniversary. Other highlights of World Conversations included a speech from journalist and human rights worker Ann Jones and a music and dance event featuring performers from Trinidad and Tobago.

During his keynote speech, held in the standing-room-only Chris Knutzen Hall, Mondale emphasized that unilateralism is no longer a wise policy, citing examples when the United States has “barged in” to other cultures without knowing much about them. Challenges facing today’s world, such as global warming and atomic weapons, require international cooperation, he said.

“We have to learn, and be a part of this world in which we live,” Mondale said. “Before you can have a good conversation with someone, you must know something about which you are discussing.” The “sometimes insular” character of U.S. citizens can hinder their ability to live as global citizens, Mondale said.

He noted that today’s generation of college students has many advantages and is compelled to use them to learn about the world and how they can make a positive impact.

“[Mondale] clearly thought we students could make a difference,” Hoppler Treichler said. Mondale’s views about education as a way to become involved with the bigger, global picture surprised Hoppler Treichler. “I didn’t consider having an education as helping the world conversation,” she said.

Senior Ben Blankenship, another student who interviewed Mondale, said he felt inspired to make a mark on the world after hearing what Mondale had to say.

“As I listened and reflected on Mondale’s manner and speech, (I saw) greatness is in the chances we take while still being an ordinary, approachable person,” Blankenship wrote in a campus newsletter after the interview. Blankenship was surprised by the “flavor” of Mondale’s responses. He said he expected “vanilla” to come from Mondale’s mouth, but instead, Blankenship got candid answers from the former politician.

While Mondale’s remarks were generally well received, he wasn’t without skeptics. Sophomore Geoff Smock, president of the PLU College Republicans, took issue with some of his comments.

During a question-and-answer period following Mondale’s speech, audience members asked him directly about the Iraq War.

Mondale said he supported the Iraq Study Group Report, released last December, which attempts to address a variety of military and diplomatic issues of concern to the broader Middle East. Mondale also supported engaging Iran diplomatically as a means toward resolution in Iraq.

Smock disagreed with the report’s recommendations, particularly the idea of diplomacy with Iran.

“We can’t expect help from Iran, because their interest and our interests are completely the opposite,” Smock said.

But discussion – and even dissent – is exactly the point of bringing speakers like Mondale to campus, according to Laura Polcyn ’75, ’79. Polcyn is the assistant to President Loren Anderson and was on the planning committee for World Conversations. The entire event, she said, and Mondale’s speech in particular, was designed to help students see the big picture when it comes to international scholarship and their call to lead “lives of service.”

Part of that connection developed with links professors and students made through classroom learning.

Blankenship is involved in a PLU class called MediaLab, which in its first years has helped connect journalism, graphic design, public relations and other communication students with local media outlets. Students have published work in newspapers, both in print and online, as well as photographs and video stories.

The video story Blankenship created about Mondale’s visit appeared on the Web site of the metropolitan daily newspaper based in Tacoma. A news story and a blog entry based on the interviews were also published by Western Washington newspapers.

Blankenship said his time with Mondale helped him realize the importance of recognizing his own potential.

“So often I think we limit our aspirations to do great things when we believe that greatness is not intrinsic,” Blankenship wrote.

Senior Shannon Murphy said she appreciated Mondale’s call for more active partici-pation in the global scene and his emphasis on using history as a guide for future diplomatic decisions.

“I think he really highlighted global understanding, which sometimes the U.S. as a whole doesn’t seek out,” said Murphy, president of the PLU Democrats. “The American way is not necessarily the best way.”

Mondale’s words brought to campus new ideas about how to participate in the world conversation, and Hoppler Treichler is ready to put those ideas into action.

“Mondale was fun. He didn’t leave you feeling like you didn’t do enough,” she said. “He delivered a message about hope and possibilities.”

After interviewing him about global warming, his diplomatic experiences in Africa and Japan, and current events, Hoppler Treichler resolved to broaden her academic perspective.

“I’m going to try to take classes specifically geared toward global issues, classes outside my own view,” she said. “I’m going to get involved with groups that support equality.”