George Stephanopoulos

Stimulating, Spirited, Surprising: 18 Years of the President’s Forum Series

by Andrew Wickenden ’09

In 2001, about a year after the launch of the President’s Forum Series, HWS President Mark D. Gearan called journalist and political advisor George Stephanopoulos, a longtime colleague and friend, to invite him to speak as part of the series. “Mark made his pitch, told me all about the thoughtful, engaged conversations happening at this wonderful place called Hobart and William Smith,” Stephanopoulos recalls. “We came to a point in the conversation when he said, ‘George, do you believe in free speech?’ And I said, ‘Yes, of course.’ And he said, ‘Good, because you’re going to give one.’”

The What
Beginning with Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000, the HWS President’s Forum Series (PFS) has held more than 150 public events featuring some of the most influential politicians, intellectuals, artists and social activists of our time. In lectures and intimate panel discussions, these renowned public figures engage the campus, the Geneva community and the extended HWS family in illuminating and thought-provoking dialogues. While on campus, PFS speakers also visit classes, gather with small groups of students and faculty members and converse one-on-one with community members in a free exchange of ideas and opinions.

The Why
"College should be an opportunity for students to have access to interesting voices and concepts across a wide spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds. My hope with the President’s Forum Series was to create a true forum of ideas and discussion, one that would encourage people in our community to think about issues in different ways. By asking questions in a public setting and by engaging these very public figures in a spirited dialogue, students gain the confidence to challenge their own assumptions and to think critically about the world around them. In return, our guests leave with a deeper appreciation of Hobart and William Smith and a broader sense of the mission of the Colleges." —President Mark D. Gearan

Paul Begala

The Who
The esteemed speakers who have joined the PFS embody what engaged citizenship looks like in practice. The list of PFS guests—which includes a dozen HWS graduates and five parents of HWS students—represents practically every aspect of active public life.

These politicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, scholars, physicians, writers and activists offer perspectives that empower students to take a “holistic approach,” or as political commentator and 2009 PFS speaker Paul Begala says: “Not to view any particular problem in a vacuum, but to understand the greater picture.”

Helen Thomas

While the experience of the speakers, and the conversations they ignite, encompass foreign policy and domestic politics, race and gender, PTSD and poetry, the common theme of the PFS is grounded in the intellectual, political and human impacts of public service and public debate.

As Helen Thomas, former White House press correspondent and 2004 PFS guest, told the audience, “We are a part of the world in all things. The more we know about others, the better we are in understanding the world around us.”

A (small) Sampling of President’s Forum Guests

Click here to view all of the President's Forum guests.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.