Students bring world to Hopkins

Foreign affairs series takes a year's work

February 21, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

For almost a year now, Johns Hopkins juniors Jay Suresh and Hari Chandra have been working for no pay with a limited budget to draw some big names to the Homewood campus for the school's second Symposium on Foreign Affairs.

"I don't think any of us had any idea how much work this would be," said Suresh, 20, who is majoring in biomedical engineering. "We've been eating, drinking and sleeping symposium."

All the visits and telephone calls and e-mails and faxes seemed to pay off with last night's appearance by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres at the Johns Hopkins University's Shriver Hall auditorium.

"I can't believe it's actually happening," Suresh said.

The students put together eight events featuring nine speakers, including three former heads of state -- Peres; Cesar Gaviria, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States and former president of Colombia; and Gro Harlem Brundtland, director general of the World Health Organization and formerly prime minister of Norway, who speaks March 3. Events have packed the Garrett Room at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library. Closed-circuit telecasts were arranged at several campus locations for last night's overflow crowd.

"It's especially nice to see that at Hopkins, where students tend to get wrapped up in their studies and forget about the rest of the world," said Hope Lyons, a senior and the symposium's assistant director.

In some ways, Peres -- the biggest name among the speakers -- was the easiest for Suresh and co-director Hari Chandra to land.

"Shimon Peres really wanted to come," Chandra said, pointing out that Hopkins Press published Peres' book on peace in the Middle East.

"He cut his honorarium significantly to meet our budgetary restraints," Chandra said.

The symposium organizers said they were not allowed to reveal how much Peres, the symposium's only paid speaker, was paid. But they said the symposium budget is about $27,000, raised from a variety of sources on and off campus.

"The point of the symposium is to add something to the intellectual life of Hopkins," Suresh said.

"We made clear in our conversations with Peres' staff that we did not want a cookie-cutter speech," he said.

Many speakers on the professional circuit offer their standard speech, no matter what the audience or the occasion, organizers said.

Some, such as husband-and-wife dueling politicos James Carville, a Democrat, and Mary Matalin, a Republican, who appeared in the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium at Hopkins last fall, churn out canned debates, organizers said.

By contrast, the Foreign Affairs Symposium's debate is a bit more low-key and high-brow -- Hopkins international affairs professor Steven David, the symposium's adviser, will discuss weapons of mass destruction with author Jonathan Schell at 8 p.m. Thursday.

Future speakers include Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Committee on International Relations on March 1; and Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and head of the Congress Party.

"We had some contacts in her office," Chandra said of Gandhi. He and Haresh lived in India, among several countries and states, while growing up. "We convinced her staff that it would be in her interest to speak at a highly visible university like Johns Hopkins. As it turns out, her trip to the United States coincided with the symposium schedule."

Others required more legwork. On an unannounced trip to the Organization of American States in Washington in May, Suresh and Chandra had nothing more than their charm and an invitation to the symposium. Those were enough to land a meeting with Gaviria's chief of staff and win his participation.

They found that the name Johns Hopkins opens doors but also comes with baggage -- some speakers assumed they would be talking to doctors in training, while others around Washington thought they would be traveling to Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies. in the district.

Neither was the case with Zeid Raad al Hussein, Jordan's ambassador to the United Nations, who spoke recently.

Hussein knows something about lining up speakers: A 1987 Hopkins graduate, he chaired the Eisenhower symposium during his years on the Homewood campus.

Pub Date: 2/21/99

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