January Series 2015 inspires through story

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Josh Linkner speaks at the January Series. Photo by Anna Delph.

This year marks the 28th installment of the January Series. During Interim, the January Series invites speakers of the highest caliber from a wide variety of fields and disciplines.

“Every day is different,” explains Kristi Potter, director of the January Series. “That’s what makes it exciting and dynamic.

“These are speakers, writers and thinkers who are leaders in their field,” said Potter. “Hearing them is a gift.”

The series also gives Calvin the opportunity to open the campus to the community and show “the great learning that happens here at Calvin every day,” said Potter. The series broadcasts to just as many off-site viewers as on-site audience members at over 40 remote sites.

The January Series is purposefully eclectic. The wide variety of topics ensures something of interest for all kinds of viewers. Potter encourages students to come as much as possible, “even if it is a topic that doesn’t sound interesting to you.”

This year’s series opened with Bobette Buster, a story consultant who works with major studios such as Disney and Pixar. Her presentation, “Storytelling and the Arc of Transformation,” highlighted a theme already emerging throughout the lectures this year — the power of story.

Buster opened her presentation with the claim, “Everyone has a story,” a statement that the following line up of speakers certainly confirms.

On the Jan. 13, Tova Friedman, a Holocaust survivor, shared her memories of a childhood spent at Auschwitz. Journalist Roxana Saberi will present on her experiences as a captive in Iran on Jan. 16. The series closes on Jan. 27 with Jeremy Sittser, who will share some of his own personal story of loss, as he explores spiritual formation in the face of tragedy.

On Wednesday, Jan. 14, Josh Linkner, a founding member of Detroit Venture Partners, discussed the history of Detroit — both as a cautionary tale and a story about the power of possibility. Linkner replaced former mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley, who could not attend the series due to health concerns.

These lectures, among many others, promise to bring inspirational stories to the campus and spark important conversations. Bryan Stevenson, who presented on Friday, Jan. 9, shared powerful stories about his career as a defense lawyer for prisoners on death row. The audience was captivated by his stories that testify to the power of grace and his challenges to change damaging narratives, get close to the vulnerable and maintain faith while seeking justice.

“That was incredible and very necessary,” said junior Annaka Scheeres. “Calvin must keep bringing in speakers like Bryan Stevenson to dismantle the false narratives we cling to.”

Senior Erin Smith, a student in the January Series Interim course, also expressed appreciation for the January Series speakers. Students in this course get the opportunity to meet speakers in a class setting for Q&A. “We get to see a more holistic side of the person, because it’s more of a dialogue,” says Smith.

“I often hear older students saying they wish they had attended the January series earlier. It only happens once a year!” says Potter. “We hope freshmen and sophomores take advantage of the incredible opportunity to hear these fascinating and inspirational speakers.