Billy Collins shakes hands with Paul Simon. Inset: Paul Simon plays the guitar. Photos by Tony Blankenship.

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins (l ) and singer-songwriter Paul Simon at the Knowles Memorial Chapel. Photos by Tony Blankenship.

Paul and Billy Down by the Schoolyard

Laura J. Cole ’04 ’08MLS

Strumming his guitar from a small chair at the front of the Knowles Memorial Chapel, Paul Simon belts out the chorus to “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” The lyrics are as engrained in my mind as they are in the grooves of countless records. Except, here at Rollins, from my position in the filled-to-capacity pews, his voice and music reverberate with such intensity that it feels like an intimate performance. Suddenly, Paul Simon seems as if he’s sitting right in front of me, performing a great American classic to an audience of one.  Hundreds of members of the campus community shared the goose bumps of this magical moment at the Chapel one evening last October. But singer-songwriter Paul Simon was not headlining a concert. Rather, he came to engage in intellectual discourse about the creative process with his good friend and former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins ’08H.

This meeting of two brilliant creative minds epitomized the mission of the Winter Park Institute (WPI), a joint venture between Rollins and the Charles Hosmer Morse/Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation designed to promote the kind of synergy created when scholars share information, debate issues, and shed light on a variety of timely topics. The Institute features discussions between the Rollins community and thought leaders from diverse fields who are invited to the Institute for limited residencies.

“The Winter Park Institute introduces new sources of intellectual capital into our campus and our community,” President Lewis Duncan said. “It offers exceptional occasions for visiting scholars and artists to interact with one another and members of the Rollins College faculty—and for members of the Rollins and Winter Park communities to enjoy unparalleled opportunities to share time with these thought leaders and participate as active listeners in some of their conversations.”

In addition to Simon and Collins, who was named the Institute’s first scholar-in-residence, in its inaugural year the WPI has hosted a varied and impressive group of noted scholars and artists who have shared their insights with the College community.

The discussion between Simon and Collins—two poets of a modern generation—is the type of interaction the Winter Park Institute fosters. Just as Simon’s performance of his 1972 hit felt like a private experience for each member of the audience, so the visits by such luminaries are intended to make members of the Rollins community feel like they’re part of an intimate yet wide-open dialogue with today’s thought leaders.