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October 20, 2011

President Daniel H. Weiss Introduces Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev and President Daniel H. Weiss

President Daniel H. Weiss introduced Mikhail Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union who ended Communist rule in Eastern Europe and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, who delivered a major address titled “Perspectives on Global Change” at Allan P. Kirby Sports Center.

Good evening! It is my special pleasure, as Lafayette’s president, to welcome you to this celebration of the Oechsle Center for Global Education.

I cannot think of a more fitting way in which to mark the creation of this vibrant new academic hub on our campus than with an address by the distinguished global leader who will present the Center’s inaugural lecture. In addition to the more than 3,500 students, faculty, alumni, parents, and friends gathered here in the Kirby Sports Center to hear Mikhail Gorbachev, we are joined by many others who are viewing this program via a live streaming broadcast in 13 locations from coast to coast, including a site in northern Mexico. Welcome to all!

We have invited such a renowned international figure to address us tonight because what he has to say is enormously important. But Mr. Gorbachev is here, as well, because he exemplifies the type of visionary, transformative leadership which we hope the Oechsle Center for Global Education will inspire – and prepare – our students to emulate as they engage with the world throughout their own lives and careers. Interdisciplinary in its orientation and innovative in its approach to learning and to global citizenship and service, the Oechsle Center will enable us to globalize the curriculum and add a global perspective to the educational experience of every Lafayette undergraduate.

Last year, our faculty took a significant step toward achieving these goals with the creation of a new international affairs major to engage students more deeply with specific geographic regions and thematic issues. We also appointed the first professor to be based entirely in that interdisciplinary program.

Next fall, a residence hall expressly designed to provide a supportive living-and-learning environment for students interested in global topics will welcome its first occupants. Grossman House is being made possible through the generosity of trustee Richard Grossman ’64 and his wife, Rissa. Richard is with us this evening, and I would like to ask him to stand and be recognized for the important contribution he and Rissa have made to global education on campus.

Lafayette’s vision for global education will of course be most fully realized through the creation of the Oechsle Center, which will provide a dynamic and fully collaborative learning environment that builds on the College’s existing strengths. To be located at a major campus gateway – directly across McCartney Street from Watson Courts – the center will feature state-of-the-art instructional facilities, formal and informal meeting spaces, and offices for faculty members whose teaching and research interests advance the center’s interdisciplinary mission. The center is now in the early design phase, with construction to begin during the coming academic year.

Our vision for this facility would have remained only a dream without the devoted involvement of two remarkable individuals, Walter and Christa Oechsle. Both are natives of Germany who graduated from American colleges: Christa is an alumna of Hofstra and Walter is a member of Lafayette’s Class of 1957. Walter majored in history here, studied philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and earned an MBA in finance from New York University. The founder of Oechsle International Advisors and a leading authority on international money management, he understands well why a global perspective is absolutely fundamental to our graduates’ success in the 21st century.

The Oechsle Center for Global Education is not Walter and Christa’s first major gift to Lafayette. They have endowed one of our largest scholarships, a fund that provides financial aid to international students. They also enabled the College to convert Alumni Memorial Gymnasium into Oechsle Hall, a new home for two of Lafayette’s programs in the sciences.

At the dedication of Oechsle Hall in 2002, Walter explained that he and Christa had been motivated to support that facility because Lafayette’s popular and important programs in psychology and neuroscience were clearly, to use his term, “under-domiciled.” In making a gift to create the Oechsle Center for Global Education, they funded a program that was, at that point, completely un-domiciled. But soon, thanks to their generosity, we will have a magnificent new facility that will embody their commitment to Lafayette, to its students, and to our shared vision of global education.

Unfortunately, Christa was unable to be with us this evening. But Walter is here, and I would like to ask him to stand so that we may all express our gratitude for the extraordinary gift which he and Christa have made.

Although the Oechsle Center does not yet exist as a physical space, in a very meaningful sense its work formally begins with tonight’s inaugural lecture. Our speaker is widely recognized as one of the very few individuals who have played a truly pivotal role in reshaping the world in a positive way since the end of World War II. For his leadership in ending the Cold War and advancing the cause of freedom throughout the Soviet Union and around the globe, and for his steadfast commitment to fundamental human rights, Mikhail Gorbachev has earned the gratitude of the world and the respect of all who value wise, principled, and courageous leadership.

It is now my great honor and privilege to welcome Mikhail Gorbachev.

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