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Students able to learn from distinguished speakers

Ben Dahan News Editor

Students have been given a unique opportunity to learn outside of the classroom through the Distinguished Speakers Series. The series features a circuit of six celebrity speakers per year to a live audience at four locations: Thousand Oaks, Redondo Beach, Pasadena and Beverly Hills.

Joanie Garratt, a long-time history teacher, is the bridge between students and this experience, offering it to any interested student.

“It’s just an amazing program,” Garratt said. “They have such a wide variety of awesome speakers, from science to the arts to politics to athletics. They have the whole gamut.”

In the coming year, students will be able to see an impressive line-up of speakers at the Saban Theater, including Joe Biden, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

“I’m excited to see what all of these interesting people have to say. I know it will be impactful and insightful,” sophomore Tyler Kiper said.

The night usually entails the speaker describing his/her life story, often utilizing anecdotes to hammer home an underlying message or theme to the audience.

“It’s basically storytelling. I think it gives students an insight into what motivates people, what causes people to act,” Garratt said. “The stories are so inspiring in so many ways.”

Junior Hyunjae Won was able to relate to and found inspiration in the story of the most recent speaker, astronaut Scott Kelly, on May 7.

“Listening to Scott Kelly speak really made me realize that there is not a predetermined, set path to success,” Won said. “[It] made me feel that regardless of my failures, if I try new experiences and pursue a career which genuinely interests me, success will follow.”

Garratt also recalls a speaker who touched her greatly, the famous photographer Planton, whom she had not known about prior to attending the event.

“Next thing I know, I’m hearing stories about Paul McCartney and [Vladimir] Putin that took place in his presence. It’s so anecdotal; you just get so much insight from casual observations that you would never see otherwise. It’s so personal,” Garratt said. “It’s like touching history in a way.”

The series was created and has since been run by two sisters, Sue Swan and Kathy Winterhalder. Garratt interacts directly with Winterhalder, who she believes has been “very supportive of the school and the kids.”

It is not only students who enjoy these opportunities. Garratt is permitted to bring one adult, usually a teacher, for every 10 students. Others interested are able to purchase a ticket or a subscription in order to attend the series.

Over the course of its 22-year run, the speaker series has hosted giants of all fields: political fixtures such as former president Bill Clinton; visionaries such as education reformer Sir Ken Robinson; sport superstars like Michael Phelps; famous journalists including Bob Woodward; scientists; generals; comedians; celebrity personalities; actors; and more.

Junior Liza Freiberg greatly appreciates being afforded the opportunity to gain insight from these distinguished speakers.

“I really appreciate the efforts of Ms. Garratt, the series and, of course, the speakers for giving me this opportunity,” Freiberg said. “Each time I go, I learn something new about the world and myself.”

Garratt anticipates another great season ahead and encourages all interested students to attend.

“We’ve got a great lineup next year,” Garratt said. “I just hope the program becomes popular and more kids participate.“
If you would like to attend, you can send Garratt an email or message. The seats the night of the event, however, are first come first serve.

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