A message from Dr. Stacey Johnson, President of the East and Winter Park Campuses
On Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, I had the pleasure to attend two incredible and moving events. As part of the 18th Annual Valencia Film Celebration, East Campus held the Tuskegee Airmen Reception and showed the stirring and important film documentary by Jon Timothy Anderson, a Valencia film instructor, entitled, “Silver Wings and Civil Rights, the Fight to Fly.” On Saturday evening, I also attended “The Duchess of Malfi,” by John Webster, adapted by our own Valencia Theater Professor Michael Shugg and directed by John DiDonna, theater professor. Seeing both of these moving events gave me pause and the desire to share with all of you some thoughts the film and play provided me.
When I attended both the reception and the film, three of the Tuskegee Airmen were in attendance. The film provided an incredible view back at the history of our country, about WWII and a revealing perspective about the Civil Rights movement. Additionally, we were also informed about the history and development of integration in education and in the military through their stories.
The Tuskegee Airmen, now in their 80’s, were very sharp and intelligent as they fielded questions from the audience in a panel interview at the conclusion of the film. They clearly delivered a message about how education has been a central mover in their success and in their ability to become leaders, pilots and change agents for our country. These men were truly inspiring, as was the film and this was a special moment on East Campus. The reception was hosted by the African American Cultural Society and student development. Mrs. Vertrilla Hunt, coordinator of job development/placement and hostess, ensured the occasion was a success with her deep warmth and vibrancy.
This was an event that could cut across many academic disciplines such as history, government, humanities, education, art and entertainment and even more, I am sure. I believe if more of us would have been together at the reception and to view the film, we truly could have had a moment of shared inspiration, pride in our country and in the faculty and staff that created such a fabulous event.
Saturday night, in contrast, “The Duchess of Malfi” was sold out in our black box theater. The audience was treated to a fantastic adaptation by Michael Shugg who also did the scenery design. The original music was an instrumental treat, haunting and memorable, composed by Dr. Troy Gifford and Raul Valery. The video banks were designed by Matt Messenger and brought wonderful color and depth to the play – complete with an overhead, real time view of the actors on stage. This play was set in Malfi, Rome and other locales in Italy in the early 1500’s and the treatment by Michael Shugg was an outcome of his sabbatical work. Use of video screens, along with the contemporary music, gave the classic tragedy a very modern feel and relevancy. The audience shared an aesthetically stimulating evening, which has kept me reflecting on the immense talent of our faculty and students.
I share both of these stories with you because I believe, on an ongoing basis at our campuses, there are so many opportunities for us to have fantastic, shared experiences that can enrich and motivate our work of service to students and the community. These opportunities are here for us if we only avail ourselves and share in the enrichment together.