Juniors Capece, Shalom Set Sights On "Defining Generation X" Steve Libowitz --------------------- Editor No sooner had juniors David Capece and Jeff Shalom been selected as co-chairs of the 1996 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium than they met with their first obstacle. It had nothing to do with funding or speakers or any of the myriad details that await them in the coming year. It had to do with unflattering peer perceptions. And they didn't like it much. Capece and Shalom will present "Defining Generation X," the 30th Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, organized in 1967 to honor Hopkins' eighth president. They believe the topic provides great opportunities for both intellectual discussion and entertainment, two key ingredients, they say, intended by Eisenhower. However, upon hearing this year's topic, an editorial in the student newspaper, The News-Letter, questioned whether "such a 'McSymposium' [is] really in keeping with the goals of an institution of higher learning." "Definitely," Shalom says. "We selected this topic because it has great flexibility to both educate and entertain, which is our goal. We will bring top speakers to discuss a wide range of issues: politics, sexuality, culture, technology." The two Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity brothers distilled the idea for the symposium from hours talking at the Hutzler Undergraduate Library. As they discussed their generation, which is as much a media creation as it is any sort of definable cohort of those born between 1960 and 1981, they focused on questions that interested them: How has the absence of war affected the attitudes of our generation? How has AIDS altered sexual values? How are we being affected by computer technology? "It's interesting to be labeled something," says Shalom, a political science major. "I pretty much agree with it though. I mean, fashions and music. Every day I run into aspects of this generation. I can't avoid them. So, we think these are serious issues to raise." And Capece and Shalom are serious too. They have to be. Putting on the symposium, a popular, big-budget multinight program that endeavors to attract top names and large audiences, is almost a full-time job. That suits these two just fine. "During the intersession we worked every day 9 to 5," Capece says. "We've been told that as we get closer [to the first lecture] it's more like 24 hours a day," Shalom says. "We'll just live it. I love it." Part of the attraction for Capece and Shalom, like chairs before them, is that the symposium is more than just an extracurricular activity. "It's a real honor and privilege to be selected," Capece says. "When I was accepted to Hopkins," Shalom says, "I think one reason was to contribute to the school because my numbers were not that high. I had two frat brothers who did the "Sexuality in America" symposium , and I was just in awe of them. I knew that I wanted to do it." Two months into the nearly yearlong planning process, Capece and Shalom are finding out just what it means to "do it." The symposium is totally managed by undergraduates. Every year a team of two or three is chosen by the student council to arrange the entire event, which features prominent speakers addressing an aspect of an important national or international issue. Previous figures include former ambassador Averell Harriman, former Supreme Court chief justice Earl Warren, former U.S. senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern, newscasters David Brinkley and Carl Bernstein, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, psychologist Jean Piaget, sex researchers Masters and Johnson, and authors Marshall McLuhan, Kurt Vonnegut and Taylor Branch. So expectations are high. Perhaps more so because last year's symposium, on a century of movies, did not attract large audiences, and often speakers addressed barely three dozen. But besides lining up speakers and attracting an audience, symposium chairs are also expected to raise somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000 to supplement a modest student council allocation. That takes dozens of hours of soliciting funds from the Alumni Association, private donors, corporations, foundations and from grants. Other than informal input and support from whoever the chairs feel appropriate, the success or failure of the annual event falls on students' shoulders, which is one of the most unique aspects of the symposium. "I don't really feel the pressure, yet. I'm interested in business, so this is a lot of what attracted me to the symposium," says Capece, a biology major. "But the work is a little more than I expected, but it's nothing we can't handle." With eight months to go, the two have been handling a lot already, meeting with administrators, writing grant proposals and letters to potential donors, and contacting agents for a wide range of possible speakers. Although the two have not signed anyone to date, their proposal to the student council suggests they have set their sights on some of the country's most familiar names, among them talk show host David Letterman, editor John Kennedy Jr., model Cindy Crawford, designer Ralph Lauren, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, House speaker Newt Gingrich, Olympic diver Greg Louganis, musicians Bono, Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men and Queen Latifah, Microsoft president Bill Gates, and the man who first dubbed his generation "X," author Douglas Coupland. Capece and Shalom have yet to finalize the format, other than to aspire to bring to the Homewood campus six to eight speakers and sprinkle other activities--such as a concert and a film screening--throughout the symposium, which they plan to kick off in early September. A lot has to be done between now and then, including Shalom and Capece's course work. But the one thing they say they don't have time for is worrying about critics. "Eisenhower's legacy was to get people out and to have fun, and that's what we are planning," Shalom says.
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