Thanks to the generosity of this entity, this year we have been able to bring some fabulous people to campus for our speaker series, Lincoln's Rhetorical Worlds. (Insert Plug Here: Tomorrow Angela Ray speaks on Lincoln at the Lyceum, 3:30 pm, Third Floor Levis Center. Come one, come all!)
There are a number of things that have been marvelous about hosting these events. Obviously, what's been most marvelous is the speakers themselves. It's a pleasure to host them and hear them talk about their wonderful work. It's also great that rhetoric is a topic of conversation across campus and in the community this year. I get all warm and fuzzy when I tune in to our visitors on local public radio and the host begins by saying, "Today our topic is rhetoric." ! Or when I look out over the audience at the public lectures and see that (a) not everybody is an undergraduate required to be there and (b) there are a lot of people in that audience that I don't know personally. Something about the topic and speaker attracted them, and part of that something, I'd like to think, is rhetoric.
It also pleases me that our graduate students have had the chance to meet and interact with our visitors in our reading groups and more informally at lunches, breakfasts, and coffees. Those kinds of interactions are so important. When I was a doctoral student at Northwestern, people came through all the time. Chicago is handy for that (long flight delay at O'Hare? Well, that gives you time to run over to Evanston and give a talk!). They'd do a colloquium and then our faculty would snag a few of us to join them for lunch or take the speaker out for coffee. This not only gave us the chance to meet successful folks in the field, it also gave us the chance to try our "how to talk to professors" riffs on people who didn't know us already. Sometimes I would even make this into a game. I remember one quarter when I vowed to ask every visitor the same question: "Tell me about your writing habits." Once, memorably, this produced a blank stare by someone who told me, "I don't have any." But usually, my question led to some marvelous conversations about writing, research, and the virtues of ritual and habit. At the time, I appreciated these interactions but didn't appreciate how rare they were. In retrospect I see that they were, in fact, the point of the whole scholarly enterprise. I'm glad our students are getting that experience this year.