Every so often, I receive event invitations to various schools and organizations that have invited a variety of speakers. In the year 2016, I had the chance to listen to two inspirational speakers, both coincidentally named John, at the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), among a host of other speakers. The speakers were invited as part of the school’s Distinguished Speaker Series to help make an impact on young minds at WAB as well as the staff and wider WAB community. Last year, (note that this will showcase the DSS speakers on the Julian calendar and not the academic calendar) the WAB DSS covered a range of topics including several uplifting messages and what it takes to be a change maker. Here are some of the highlights:
Area of expertise: Inspirational Speaker, Founder and CEO of OurAbility, Author
Background: Robinson is a congenital amputee who has devoted his life to assisting people, especially those living with disabilities, in gaining access to wide-ranging opportunities, in spite of the challenges they may experience. As a motivational speaker, Robinson inspires children and adults to live every minute positively and focus on their capabilities rather than their limitations. He founded a non-profit, OurAbility, to help people living with disabilities to be able to gain employment by offering education, mentoring, and workshops.
Activities: Robinson spent the day with Elementary School students talking about how the obstacles we face make us better if we choose to face them with confidence. He then spent the evening giving a presentation on his life’s work, his achievements, and encouraged people to have a more positive outlook on life and to believe in themselves to grow through overcoming obstacles.
Area of expertise: Photographer, Activist, Environmentalist
Background: John Isaac worked as a photographer for the United Nations for more than 30 years photographing human crises around the world, drawing attention and growing awareness to the issues, and inspiring action and change. Issac now works in wildlife photography, taking photos to help protect the endangered species of our planet.
Activities: During a day-long visit with students in Elementary, Middle, and High School, and in a presentation to 150 audience members, Isaac discussed how his 45 years of photojournalism and activism have helped him become a better person every single day. “An important lesson for younger generations today is to learn to respect and love ourselves first. Then we can learn to love our neighbors,” Issac explained, reflecting on his goal of helping humanity live together and love one another. “I want to be a better human today than I was yesterday.”
Area of expertise: Philosopher, Author
Background: Baggini is known not only for his best-selling books, but also for his ability to make deep and complicated philosophical issues accessible in everyday language to people whom aren’t experts but are interested in the field of philosophy.
Activities: Baggini led a community-wide discussion at WAB, presenting on the topic of free will and answering the question “Did your brain make you do it?” The arguments for and against free will explore the idea of an individual human’s ability to make decisions on their own accord. He explained different definitions and attributes of free will, and how scientists, artists, philosophers, musicians, and authors interpret its meaning. He spoke about his ideas, which are covered in his latest book, Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will.
Profession: Head Coach of China’s Men’s Table Tennis Team
Background: Liu Guoliang was the second player ever to win a table tennis Grand Slam, having won the World Championships, World Cup, and Olympic Games gold medals. As head coach, he led China to a team gold medal and a host of individual gold medals at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Activities: Liu shared a message of pride, teamwork, and sportsmanship to a crowd of more than 100 and spoke in-depth about his career as a coach including the constant pressure he faced and the team’s trials and victories at the Olympics. His inspirational words about keeping cool under intense expectations while always striving for first place were tempered with his love for family and the game.
Ann Bancroft, Liv Arnesen, and the Access Water team
Area of expertise: Educators, Explorers, Activists
Background: Explorers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft led a team of eight women, representing every continent, on a mission to help people everywhere have access to clean, drinkable fresh water. They travel to schools to talk to children, partner with organizations and businesses, and garner media attention as they travel on expeditions to raise awareness about the worldwide water crisis. Arnesen was the first woman to ski solo to the South Pole. Bancroft was the first known woman to reach both the North and South Poles on foot. They teamed up in 2000 to become the first women to cross Antarctica. They have developed their passion for exploring into an effort to educate the world and find a solution to a problem that plagues people on every continent: polluted and inaccessible fresh water.
Activities: “Education is the only way we can really make a difference in the world,” was the message from these two final speakers at the WAB DSS event for 2016. The two individuals are from the Access Water Team and spoke to a crowd of approximately 100. “Our dream is to reach young people on every continent. We are all on the same globe, and they understand that,” said Bancroft, who considers the members of her team as being educators first and explorers second. “We are life-long learners. As an educator, that’s what we are. We can’t be explorers and adventurers without that.”