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Lyceum set to embark on first livestreamed season

  • Andrew Card, who served as chief of staff to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006 and is the former president of Franklin Pierce University, will be the first speaker for the Monadnock Summer Lyceum on Sunday, June 28. Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/24/2020 4:12:59 PM

Mary Vallier-Kaplan is holding on to the slightest bit of hope.

Before the coronavirus pandemic forced the Monadnock Summer Lyceum to switch its 2020 season to a completely livestreamed format, there was a special three-day weekend planned for August commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage. It was supposed to be a collaboration with the Amos Fortune Forum and Electric Earth Concerts to mark the 100 year anniversary of how American women won the right to vote.

But COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans, as gathering in large groups for three separate events just doesn’t seem possible in the current landscape. Yet Vallier-Kaplan hasn’t completely given up on the idea – at least when it comes to the Lyceum’s presentation with Susan Ware on Aug. 16.

“If there’s a way to do something that weekend with a live component the door is open,” she said. “If there’s a way to do it safely.”

But before Vallier-Kaplan can look forward to what will happen on the third Sunday in August, she wants to get through this Sunday, which will mark the first time in the Lyceum’s history that one of their presentations has not been done in person at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church.

“Having crowds of people come together is not wise because we don’t know what that means,” Vallier-Kaplan said.

The thought of canceling the season was not an option, so when the Lyceum committee came to the realization that the traditional way they host their speakers just could not happen, they explored every avenue to make sure that the series continued. After all, it has been held continuously each summer since 1970.

“We were inspired that all our speakers and moderators were excited about it,” Vallier-Kaplan said.

During the months of April and May, committee members worked double time to figure out how to pull off the weekly events through a livestream. They have done three trial runs so far, as this will be a first for not only the Lyceum, but also the speakers and moderators who will take part in this season.

And even though they put in all the extra work and tested the process, Vallier-Kaplan knows that it’s going to be a trial and error approach as the season moves along.

“It will be what it will be that first time,” she said. “The potential glitches are different. We’re relying more on technology.”

The important thing was doing all they could to ensure those who look forward to the Lyceum, the people that make it a big part of their summer weekends, are given an avenue to learn and be engaged in thoughtful dialogue.

“We felt we should do this, we could do this and we will do this,” Vallier-Kaplan said.

The season kicks off Sunday with Andrew Card, who served as Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006, Deputy Chief of Staff to President George H. W. Bush and Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs under President Ronald Reagan. Card, whose talk is titled “Democracy, Bipartisanship, and Leadership in Troubled Times,” was also the President of Franklin Pierce University. With a hard hit economy, frightening pandemic, divided Congress and local, state and national concerns about equal rights, Card has a unique perspective on meeting government challenges.

Card will be live through StreamYard at 11 a.m. with Ted Leach serving as moderator and access to the livestream is very simple, as people will be able to access it through the Lyceum website (https://www.monadnocklyceum.org/). There is no signup or download required, and viewers will be able to to submit questions live through the Lyceum’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

While it adds an extra layer, Vallier-Kaplan said it was important to keep that live component as part of it.

“We wanted that feeling, if at the very least, this is what they’re saying today,” she said. “And hopefully it has that feeling of right now.”

The goal of the Lyceum is to feature prominent speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines who discuss topics of importance to the present time.

Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College in Connecticut, will speak on the topic of “Speech, Freedom, and Inclusion of College Campuses” on July 5, moderated by Tori Haring-Smith.

According the the Lyceum website, “Freedom of speech is an individual’s right to articulate ideas without fear of retaliation. Academic freedom is a commitment that scholars are free to teach ideas that are unpopular without being targeted for repression.” But as the website description continues “Constitutional rights are not absolute. What are the limitations of speech? How do we balance freedom of speech while fostering diversity and inclusion?”

Musician Jim Rooney will actually come to Peterborough for his talk on July 12, but will livestream from his niece’s barn. In addition to providing answers to questions like, “What makes a song? What makes us want songs in our lives? Where do songs come from?” Rooney will also sing.

“That one will be different and exciting in a unique way,” Vallier-Kaplan said.

On July 19, Daniel Klein and Thomas Cathcart will explain how the densest works in the history of Western philosophy can all be better understood with wacky jokes.

The longtime friends studied philosophy together at Harvard and will share the insights that got their book, “Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar” finally published.

Gish Jen’s latest book, “The Resisters” was even a surprise to her. Long known as a chronicler of the American experiment, Jen took a much different path to her newest read and will attempt to answer why she did it and if she really knew anything about baseball on July 26.

Is children’s popular culture mere child’s play, unworthy of critical thought or questioning? Such a view may lead adults to miss problematic patterns in children’s culture such as gender role stereotypes and racial bias. So on Aug. 2, Rebecca Hains will make the case that children’s popular culture deserves attention.

For far too long, the history of how American women won the right to vote has been told as the tale of a few iconic leaders, all white and native-born. “Why They Marched”, presented by Ware on Aug. 16, will uncovers a more diverse story. 

And to close out the Lyceum season, Barbara Bramble, Vice President for International Conservation at the National Wildlife Federation, will describe the different causes of mega-fires around the world, and potential responses on Aug. 23. Her talk focuses on tropical rainforests, and the astounding number of fires in the Brazilian Amazon that made global headlines in 2019.

While it will be a little different, the musical component of the Lyceum will continue with some giving live performances and others providing recordings. The only thing missing will be filling the Unitarian Church pews and the after speaker receptions.

“The important thing is we’re trying to do this for people,” Vallier-Kaplan said. 

For more information about the speakers and how to access the livestream, visit https://www.monadnocklyceum.org/.




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