Rainn Wilson

Let’s talk: Spring speakers bring fresh perspectives

May 24, 2024

Campus Life

Beloved television actors, politicians, and best-selling authors were among the speakers who delved into pressing issues at the University of Richmond this past semester.

Rainn Wilson, best known for his portrayal of Dwight Schrute from The Office, spoke on the themes from his recent book Soulboom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution as part of the Sylvester Spirituality Series. The audience saw a different side to the actor, who spoke openly about the anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges he experienced as a young person. Wilson discussed finding meaning for his life through prayer, meditation, community, gratitude, and ritual, and, today, looks for ways to bring people together.

“He talked about how common spiritual values across many faith traditions can be a means of addressing some of the deep challenges in our world, including the cultural divides we see around us,” said University Chaplain Craig Kocher, who led the discussion. “He was incredibly funny and also profound at the same time.”

From the world of international politics, Atifete Jahjaga — the first female president of Kosovo and the youngest woman of any nation to serve as president — visited campus and spoke to students in a program organized by Lidia Radi, professor of Italian and French.

“In a male-dominated society, it’s inspiring to see a woman gain so much power and have so much influence,” said Leyla Murati, a rising sophomore whose parents are from Kosovo. “She’s broken stereotypes, which is important for us to hear. It makes me so proud.”

Steve Inskeep, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and author of Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America, spoke to journalist-in-residence Roben Farzad before a live audience for his Full Disclosure podcast. 

Inskeep noted that Lincoln was an amazing public speaker who should be as famous for what he didn’t say. His ability to hold his fire and speak carefully, “gets to that question of assembling a coalition of people to do what you think is right, what you think needs to be done, even though they have a great variety of views.”

Suzanne Nossel, CEO of PEN America, appeared as one of the speakers for the Sharp Viewpoint Series.

In a discussion with students before her talk, Nossel gave them some practical tips on how to navigate difficult conversations, even when they disagree. She also said she believes students may not arrive at college with the skill sets necessary to engage in discussions on difficult topics with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and that colleges should set the expectation that there will be a free give and take of opinions.                            

“It’s extremely timely to have somebody here to talk about free speech and to say it’s okay to talk about these issues,” said rising junior Kate Chasin, a leadership studies major, after the meeting.

The Tucker-Boatwright Festival of Literature and Arts featured Shannon Lee, the daughter of martial arts star Bruce Lee and author of Be Water, My Friend. Lee lost her father at the age of 4, then her brother, the actor Brandon Lee, to an accidental on-set shooting when she was 23. She struggled for many years with anxiety and talked about finding mental wellness through her father’s philosophy and legacy.

In life, “the good things don’t last, and the bad things don’t last,” Lee said. “Be, as my father said, like the cork on top of the wave. You will continue to bounce along, up and down, up and down. But you won’t drown.”