Home Runs and Elephants

February 21, 2012

Billy Collins holds up his giant editor's pencil. (Photo by David Noe)


On a blustery Sunday that threatened rain on more than one occasion, Winter Park Institute (WPI) aficionados gathered al fresco for The Animated Magazine, a cherished tradition recently brought back to life by President Lewis Duncan. The Magazine’s editor, WPI Senior Distinguished Fellow and United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins, opened the event on Mary-Jean Plaza, referring to the ensuing program as a “living magazine” and one that “harkens back to a time when people received their education in person and not through wires.”
Before the day’s five speakers presented, the audience was treated to a brief history lesson courtesy of College Historian and Professor Emeritus of History Jack Lane, who shared that the Animated Magazine once “filled a large cultural vacuum in Central Florida,” and at its peak, brought more than 8,000 attendees to campus.
With much passion and patriotism, Former CIA Director Porter Goss began as the Magazine’s first contributor, sharing his insights on the strength of America’s brand. “It impacts our ability to go into the world and do the things we need to do,” said Goss, who is the father of three Rollins graduates. While Goss declared that America’s brand is doing “just fine,” he was also quick to point out that there are still many cultural misunderstandings that need to be addressed. “We have to craft our message to get the real message of America out there.”
Goss was followed by Christoph Wolff, a renowned J.S. Bach scholar and Harvard University professor who opened by saying, “I don’t think I have ever spoken after a CIA representative or before someone who will talk about elephants. But Bach was an elephant in the history of music and his music is a major treasure of world culture.” Christoph then shared the story behind the first modern performance of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion,” which was retrieved from obscurity and performed in 1829 under the direction of the young Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy.
Jim Evans was the day’s next contributor and a shining example of the Magazine’s diverse content. The former Major League Baseball umpire shared highlights and insights from his 27-year career, which included umpiring four World Series, eight no hitters and the longest game in major league history. The self-proclaimed "necessary evil", started his career at the age of 14. “I umpired five games on my first day,” Evans reminisced. “I got paid $15 that day and found the passion of my life.”
In his examination of the earliest renderings of divine images on the walls of caves, Randall B. Robertson, founder and executive director of GladdeningLight, spoke of "Aesthetic Epiphanies," and recalled moments of being struck dumb in wonderment at the “compositions and human emotions” he has seen created by homo spiritualists. “The seeds of potentiality can be seen as far back as cro magnon,” said Robertson. “Everywhere there are images of beauty and joy in the afterlife.”
Finally, Janice Aria, director of animal stewardship for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, gave the audience a glimpse into the world of caring for the largest herd of Asian elephants in the western hemisphere, which live on a vast and little-known preserve in Central Florida. Aria, who dropped out of NYU in 1972 to attend clown college, has spent decades working with these giant grey mountains. “I don’t think there is any animal in our lexicon that has attracted more emotional response than the elephant,” Aria shared. “I feel so fortunate to have lived with these creatures and to have gotten to know them on such a deep, emotional level.”
Collins closed the event by reading two of his poems and encouraged the crowd to mingle, enjoy the sun that had finally peaked through the clouds, and listen to the sounds of The Rollins Trio, which provided the musical accompaniment to the eclectic event.

By Kristen Manieri

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