Friday, April 27, 2007

Tony Snow, Class of '77, Visits Davidson College

Today Davidson had the privilege of hearing Tony Snow speak on the topic of liberal arts education and the importance of critical writing and thinking skills. The lecture was not planned well in advance; rather, Mr. Snow was in town this weekend for alumni events and he graciously agreed to speak to students briefly.

He gave a few brief remarks on the importance of brevity in thought and writing, but then spent the rest of the hour answering questions. Question-and-answer sessions tend to make me nervous; I’m always afraid that someone will ask a dumb question or worse, attack the speaker. Fortunately, only one student fell into the latter category. His question—one of those that last five minutes before getting to the point—seemed designed to trip up Mr. Snow and criticize some of his past action. Despite the student repeated efforts to engage Mr. Snow in his bizarre dialogue, Mr. Snow simply refused to fall for the bait.

The most surprising and pleasing element of his talk was the humorous aspect. “When people stop laughing at politicians, that’s a problem,” he said. Responding to a question about his opinion of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, and satirical commentary, he reminded the crowd of students that laughing at yourself and at others is important and not something to avoid.

Questions ranged from asking Mr. Snow his opinion on Fox News, to how he would explain the White House’s perceived “lack off transparency.” He answered each question with style and articulation. Though I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to ask a question—I was afraid I would speak too quickly and that he wouldn’t understand—I did at last. I asked what relevance a liberal arts education had today, in light of new technologies, especially blogging. He responded about blogs first, adding more humor, but then becoming serious in his note that blogging democratized the media—now everyman and everywoman who can access the web can share an opinion. Then he addressed the liberal arts education, giving his insight that college teaches you to learn; he said he’s in the “world’s longest grad school.” I love the concept of life-long learning, and thus found his position valuable.

Overall, Tony Snow’s lecture inspired me to be more articulate in both my speech and my writing. His notes on brevity reminded me of Strunk & White’s admonition: Omit Needless Words (also one of my father’s favourite aphorisms). It was a wonderful opportunity to hear him speak and also highly entertaining.

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