Dr. Kurt Heinlein - New Student Convocation keynote speaker

Uploaded by MissouriState on 22.08.2011

It is now my great pleasure to introduce our convocation’s keynote speaker, Dr. Kurt
Heinlein. Dr. Heinlein serves as this year’s provost fellow for the public affairs. He
is an associate professor of theater in MSU’s Department of Theater and Dance, where he
coordinates the actor-training program. Kurt is a working member of Actors Equity Association,
the Screen-Actors Guild, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
Kurt has performed and directed extensively since completing his MFA in Acting from Cincinnati
College Conservatory of Music. With performance credits that include New York Regional Theater,
Daytime drama, film, commercial, print and over twenty-five national television spots
as well as directing credits that include New York, Regional and University Theater.
His work has been seen in daytime drama, national commercials, and professional educational
theater circuits. Kurt completed his PhD in theater from Louisiana State University and
has been awarded several grants for his work in theater that promotes social and environmental
betterment. Publications include the book, Green Theater, promoting ecological preservation
and advancing sustainability of humanity and nature. Kurt maintains a lifelong dedication
to service work and environmental education. Noted by his volunteer work for the Nature
conservatory, the National Park Service and the Book Pals literacy program. Kurt has received
a recent service reward from the state of Louisiana for his work surrounding the development
of his play, Evangeline Drowning. Please, help me welcome to the podium, Dr. Kurt Heinlein.
Thank you. Thank you Dr. Doman. How are you doing? We can do better. How are you doing?
(Cheers) I like it. I like it. So, I’m gonna start off with a Snoop Dog quote. It’s my
feeble attempt at relevancy. “Greetings, loved ones. Let’s take a journey.” So,
I have a question for you, which is, “What is public affairs?” If you are not one hundred
percent sure, raise your hand. I’ll raise mine. So we’re gonna try and find it in
the next few minutes. Really, what is “public affairs”? While you’re here at Missouri
State, you’ll have lots of opportunities to hear about the three pillars of public
affairs. You’ll hear about public affairs intensive classes. You’ll hear about the
Public Affairs Conference. You’ll see speakers. You’ll take workshops. You might hear a
concert. But what is “public affairs”? I’m going to give you a couple examples
of what I think “public affairs” is. “Public affairs” is the biology students who travel
to South America to develop a school based on principles for sustainability. That’s
“public affairs”. It’s the physical therapy student who was in Joplin last month,
doing rehab services following the tornado. It’s “public affairs”. It’s the wide
body of majors that donated skills to Post-Katrina reconstruction. It’s “public affairs”.
It comes in various forms. It doesn’t have to be big and broad. It could be local. It
could be the restaurant hospitality student who’s serving at the local soup kitchen.
These are real examples. It could be the theater and dance students who developed and travel
to work to promote healthy body image for teenagers. It could be smaller. It could be
simpler. It could be pitching in at church. It could be offering a compliment to a disheartened
student or peer. That is “public affairs”. You see, it has a wide spectrum. It’s my
hope, that while you’re here, you’ll discover what your place in that is. So I’d like
to offer you a couple variances in that definition that I’ve come in contact with. One is using
your skills to make a positive impression on the world around you. Whatever you define
that world to be. Again, that can be your church, it could be the globe. Making connections.
“Connections” is a word you’re going to hear a lot. Connections. It could be building
a bridge where there wasn’t one. It could be repairing a bridge where one was broken.
That’s public affairs. Using your skills to make a positive impact on your world. Here’s
the good news, this arena is brimming with potential. You look at the number of bodies
in here. You think of the talent. You think of the brains. Imagine what you can do. I
want you to look around you. Just look around. Maybe it’s someone you don’t know. Just
take a peek. Say “hi” to them. Just say “hello.” Hopefully they don’t bite.
That person you just said “hi” to could be the senator that solves our fiscal crisis
or the next one. Look at somebody else. Say “hi”. That person could be the doctor or the nurse
or the aid worker that helps you follow in our next natural disaster. Look at somebody
else. You don’t have to say hi. Just look at them. They might be the next Snoop Dogg.
This arena is filled with potential. Remember, “public affairs” is about making connections.
It’s about positive impact. I wanna tell you a real brief story about how I fell upon
“public affairs”. It’s about a professor that I had. I know a lot of you just went
through SOAR, or all of you. Back in the day when we had to register in a line and they
would assign us a SOAR or an advisor, much like they do now, and we have to meet with
them and they go through registration. I was assigned a philosophy professor named Dr.
Taber. Dr. Taber liked cards; he liked music. Interesting guy. He gave me. Actually, I’ll
start with this because it’s kind of interesting. He referred to me, because of my interest
in theater and psychology, as a renaissance man. I didn’t know what that was, and I
thought he was talking about the hotel. I said, “I don’t want to do hotel management,
I want to do theater.” But he gave me a piece of advice, and I’m going to give it
to you. He said, “Sit in the front seat.” Okay. I did. I went to class. Actually, I
should put it this way. I went to parties. Sometimes I went to class. Yeah, It’s good
to have fun. But I bombed out my first semester. Bombed. I mean atomic. Dr. Taber tracked me
down. He said, “What are you doing?” he asked me a lot of questions. He read me the
Riot Act, he emphasized that I was not just failing myself, but I was failing the people
that I had the potential to help in my life. He said. “Sit in the front seat.” I thought
I try it. And you know what? It worked. I went to class. I sat in the front seat. It
was kind of cool. I found out that teachers don’t like when you fall asleep in class.
I found that out. I found out that I like to learn, that it was hard sometimes, but
I really liked it. But I had to connect in order to find out. I got to see a friend of
mine throw up in the trashcan in the front of class. I was the one who got to witness
my math professor’s hair slide to the right, confirming that it was a toupee. Life was
good. But my grades started going up. Before I knew it, I was in the honors college. I
was like, “Really?” and it all came back to sitting in the front seat. Now Dr. Taber,
I mentioned he was a cool guy. He was very into service. I kept in touch with him throughout
college, and he would drag me along on his service gigs. Some of the things I got to
do: I got to do trail restoration at a state park. I got to fix cars for a local shelter
for the needy. It was no accident that my grades were skyrocketing at the same time
I was doing service. I found there’s a huge connection between public affairs, between
service and academic success, and I was growing as a person. Now, my senior year, he asked
me to go to Special Olympics with him and asked me to enlist all of my theater friends
to come along. I wanted to impress him. I said, “sure”. Called up my theater friends.
I think he thought we were lively. We go there; we have the day of our lives. It was amazing.
But, sitting on the hillside, about halfway through that day, and Dr. Taber says something
along the lines of, “How’s the view form the front seat?” I was like, “Bam! Dude,
you hit me with a metaphor? Four years! I’ve been sitting in the front seat of class, and
it’s a metaphor? Really?” But, he meant it literally, and he meant the metaphor, and
I realized, “Wow! I kinda do have a good view from here. This is nice.” He was sneaky,
but he was brilliant. So, he recently announced his retirement, and there was a Facebook page
set up. You’ll hear a lot about social media this year. There’s a page set up for him,
and people put quotes and anecdotes, and one of the things that someone wrote about him,
“What I learned from Dr. Taber is that the definition of success has less to do with
the traditional measures of your achievements and more to do with what you had helped others
to achieve.” It summed him up. And it occurred to me how wide the body of people is that
he impacted. Public affairs, right? Connecting. Making connections. Now, I’m aware that
this, “driving in the front seat” thing has been sort of explored in recent pop music,
right? You know what I’m talking about? You’ll see. So, I’m going to quote you
a lyric from what I like to call the existential pop culture philosopher, Rebecca Black. Hang
with me. “Yeah yeah yeah, ah ah ., yeah ah ah yeah ah ah, yeah AH ah, yeah yeah yeah.
Seven A.M.” I know you know the words, “waking up in the morning. Gotta be fresh. Gotta go
downstairs. Gptta have my bowl. Gotta have cereal. Seeing everything, time is rushing
on. Gotta get down to the bus stop. Gotta catch my bus. See my friends see my friends.
Kickin’ in the front seat, sittin’ in the back seat. Gotta make up my mind. Which
seat do I take?” Right? Now, she has taken some pot shots recently, hasn’t she? Who
in this room has made a Rebecca Black joke? Come on. Here’s the thing. Teenage girl
who had the gumption and the bravery to use social media to put herself out there. She’s
gotten a lot of bullying, a lot of harassment in response, and what has she done? She has
handled it with grace and dignity. No matter how fifteen year old her lyrics are, she’s
showing us what “public affairs” is because she’s taking her experience and become a
voice for other individuals who’ve been bullied throughout the country. That is “public
affairs”. Rebecca Black, believe it or not. Can’t believe I’m talking about it, right?
So, importantly, she’s taking the front seat she talks about. So, you’ve heard the
word “connecting” lots of times. Connecting. Connecting. Connecting. Our public affairs
theme this year is the Culture of Connectivity. We’re going to explore lots of things about
the benefits of the digital age, the media age, social media, and the challenges that
come with it. We’ll explore our definition of humanity in the media age. Lots of great
stuff. Lots of events for you to go to. In light of that, I want to pass a challenge
onto you. That was passed onto me as a student from Dr. Taber, which is to take the front
seat. Get involved in public affairs. This theme, we need your help. You are the era
of connectivity. Not us on this podium. It’s you, and we need you. Please, become involved.
So, remember what public affairs” is? Using your skills to make the world around you a
little bit better. So, I’m going to close on a lyric, since I started on one: a little
more controversial. Edited, I will say. It’s by a noted rapper, Kanye West. So, “I parallel
double parked that car sideways. Old folks talkin’ about ‘back in my day,’ but
homies, this is your day.” Connect.