DeMott Lecture 2013
This was not your typical “go forth and change the world speech,” but rather a sober twist on it.
Writer and Amherst parent Elizabeth Kolbert addressed some 460 new Amherst College students who gathered in Johnson Chapel for the eighth annual Benjamin DeMott Lecture during Orientation 2013, telling them that they already have changed the world, more specifically the environment, through their very existence on the planet.
Kolbert said the state of the earth is much worse than she described in her highly acclaimed nonfiction work Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, originally published in 2006. The ice cap over the Arctic Ocean is quickly shrinking, carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels is being pumped into the atmosphere at a higher rate than scientists predicted a decade ago, and oceans are being acidified as result, with ominous consequences for marine life.
Kolbert’s book was assigned to all first-year students and was the subject of discussions with faculty and staff during Orientation. A former New York Times journalist, Kolbert has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1999.
Acknowledging that her message was a “grim welcome” to the college, Kolbert offered no easy solutions, but this bit of encouragement:
"The truth is you also may come up short, but that does not mean that you do not have an obligation to try. Though I can't provide you with any answers tonight, I still believe in changing the world and working to make a positive difference. I suppose that really does show you the power of a college education."
DeMott Lecture 2012
August 27, 2012
In the 2012 DeMott Lecture, David Nevins ’88, President of Entertainment at Showtime Networks, Inc. and producer of movies and television series such as “Friday Night Lights,” “Arrested Development,” and “Lie to Me,” discussed the influences of an Amherst education on his career as an award-winning creative force in one of the world’s most exciting and influential industries.
DeMott Lecture 2011
“We’re Freshmen Together”
August 29, 2011
It’s been a few years since he began his studies at Amherst College, but being a freshman U.S. Senator has brought back some vivid memories for Christopher Coons ’85. In delivering this year’s DeMott Lecture to an appreciative crowd of first-year students in Johnson Chapel on Monday, Coons noted that being a recently elected legislator and being a first-year are similar in many ways.
For example, Coons said he’s been “humbled and amazed,” both at Amherst and in the Senate, by the breadth and range of his classmates.
But he gave the edge to Amherst students for their “incredible and amazing” backgrounds.
Coons asked the students to close their eyes and think about their high schools, imagining the atmosphere, their teachers, their friends, their worries.
“Now open your eyes,” he said. “That’s all gone. You have an opportunity to redefine yourself at Amherst.”
He urged students to get to know each other during their time at Amherst, study abroad, take classes outside of their majors and take full advantage of all that the college has to offer.
“Promise me you’re going to do it all,” he said.
Coons—and Amherst—rocketed to national prominence in fall 2010 when Christine O’Donnell, his opponent for the Delaware senatorial seat, targeted an article in The Amherst Student titled “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.”
Though the article described Coons’ more gentle political transformation from staunch Republican to moderate Democrat following a trip to Kenya, and ultimately it did no lasting political harm, the phrase “bearded Marxist” reverberated during the campaign.
When the article ran in 1985, Coons recalled, his mother had waved it in his face and warned, “This will come back to haunt you when you run for the Senate.”
“I said, ‘Mom, that’s ridiculous. I’m never going to run for the Senate.’”
But he did, and after the article garnered so much attention, the dutiful son placed a call to his mother, telling her, “Once again, you were right.”
After his speech, Coons fielded questions from students for about 20 minutes and then invited all those who hadn’t had their queries answered to Charles Pratt Dormitory. That conversation began at 10:30 p.m. and was still going strong at midnight—evidence of the students’ intense curiosity and Coons’ willingness to engage with them. See photos of the conversation.
DeMott Lecture Archive
DeMott Lecture 2010: Harold Varmus ’61
DeMott Lecture 2009: Paul Rieckhoff ’98
Demott Lecture 2008: David Freudenthal ’73