When the Center for Community and Civic Engagement opened its doors last fall, its mission was multi-faceted, as was its approach. Created with the goal of equipping students to exert positive influence on public life, the Center facilitates connections and engagement between students and the wider world beyond Rivers. The center has brought numerous “visitors” to campus through video teleconferencing, supported student participation in conferences, hosted forums on current events, and sponsored a series of alumni talks.
Now, another major CCCE initiative has come to fruition. The Hall Family Speaker Series launched this fall with a gift from Max and Alison Hall, parents of Natalie Hall ’19. The Halls’ vision and generosity, says Center director Amy Enright, enabled the realization of a long-held dream. “From the Center’s inception,” says Enright, “[Head of School] Ned Parsons recognized the potential of a speaker series to raise awareness on campus of the most challenging and important issues of the day. Alison Hall came to the CCCE, listened to our plans for a broad array of student programming, and decided to support the speaker series specifically.”
Alison Hall says her desire to support the CCCE grew out of Natalie’s experiences at Rivers. “Our daughter had amazing teachers and wonderful opportunities throughout her seven years at Rivers, particularly during her junior and senior years,” says Hall. “Max and I feel grateful to Rivers for the experiences and conversations that helped her define the things she cares about and focuses on beyond school, and how she sees herself in the world. I think the Center for Community and Civic Engagement was launched to help all Rivers kids do that—to see themselves in the bigger picture, use their voices, understand their impact—so it made sense for us to help the CCCE in its mission,” says Hall.
“In talking with Amy about the CCCE’s specific needs,” she continues, “the topic of outside speakers came up. That felt like an area where the impact could really ripple out and be multiplied.” The Halls’ gift was finalized late last winter, with a goal of launching the speaker series this fall.
Next came the challenge of finding the perfect speaker to kick it all off. Enright knew it would be crucial to set the right tone; in very short order, the author, activist, and speaker Eric Liu moved to the top of her list. “Liu struck me as the most accessible, inspiring voice working in civics right now,” Enright says. Liu, she says, was her “dream speaker,” and she was thrilled when he agreed to visit campus in early October. Rivers partnered with the Tisch College of Civic Life for the event.
Before an audience of more than 300 parents, faculty, and community members, Liu said that the central task of engaged citizenship is asking “What should I do?”—and then doing it. Power, he said, can accrue to the powerless through “the magic of organizing” and of taking action as a community. And he spoke of the need to combine power with character—in the broad, social sense—to create true citizenship.