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Northwest Missouri State University

News Release

July 29, 2009

'Freedom Writers' creator heads 2009-'10 Distinguished Lecture line-up










The Office of Campus Activities has announced the line-up of speakers for Northwest's 2009-'10 Distinguished Lecture Series.

Sponsored by Campus Activities with support from the Office of the Provost, the annual series brings nationally and internationally prominent writers, thinkers, artists, scholars and public figures to campus, where they share insights and experiences during free lectures open to all members of the University community and the public.

All Distinguished Lectures take place in the Ron Houston Center for the Performing Arts on the Northwest campus. Admission is free. Speakers for 2009-'10 include:

Erin Gruwell, educator and social change advocate
Co-sponsored by Northwest's College of Education & Human Services and Intercultural & International Center
7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 30.

As a teacher in a racially polarized Los Angeles-area high school, Gruwell worked to make her students move beyond the divides of color and culture toward an understanding of tolerance and acceptance.

Her success in leading young people to explore their experiences and improve their lives through writing led to publication of "The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them."

In 2007, Gruwell's story was turned into the feature film, "Freedom Writers," starring Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.

Stephen Paletta, philanthropist and winner of "Oprah's Big Give"
Co-sponsored by the Student Activities Council
8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16.

Inspirational speaker Stephen Paletta began his philanthropic journey years before being chosen as "the biggest giver" on the hit reality show, "Oprah's Big Give. Feeling challenged to choose between "significance or success," Paletta journeyed to Rwanda for a trip that changed his life.

Paletta and his family later decided to financially adopt ten children in Africa and then founded the International Education Exchange, which supports the building of schools and libraries and the training of teachers to staff African classrooms.

A second nonprofit, Stephen's Journey Foundation, was formed after he was awarded $1 million on "Oprah's Big Give." Dedicated to shining a light on social entrepreneurs around the world, the foundation helps connect philanthropists with effective grassroots nonprofit organizations.

A business owner and entrepreneur, Paletta often encourages organizations and individuals to use their success in ways that help others.

Harold Ford, Jr.
F ormer U.S. congressman, chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, news analyst
8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3.

Harold Ford, Jr. served as a U.S. congressman from Tennessee for 10 years. Described by President Bill Clinton as "the walking, living embodiment of where America ought to go in the 21st century," Ford is now chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, a news analyst for NBC and MSNBC and a visiting professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University.

Mercedes Ramirez Johnson
Co-sponsored by the Phi Mu Sorority and Panhellenic Council
8 p.m. Monday, March 1.

In 1995, Mercedes Ramirez Johnson narrowly survived a commercial airplane crash that killed 160 people, including her parents. As one of only four survivors, she vowed that she would make the most of her second chance at life.

In the years since, Ramirez Johnson has appeared on "PrimeTime," the BBC, the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Health Channel and "The Montel Williams Show." She has also told her story to numerous national magazines and major-market newspapers.

Recognized as one of the country's top young Hispanic up-and-comers by "People Magazine's" Spanish edition, "People en Español," she was also voted Alumni of the Year by INROADS Inc., an international organization dedicated to developing talented minority youth.

In addition, Ramirez Johnson was recently honored as Volunteer of the Year by Christ Haven for Children, a home for neglected children in Texas.

In memory of her parents, she has established a scholarship for minority students at Northwest Missouri State University, where she is an executive member of the Northwest Foundation Board of Directors.

Celine Cousteau
Explorer and filmmaker
8 p.m. Wednesday, April 14.

Whether she's free-diving, horseback riding, leading an expedition to the Andes or swimming with sharks in the South Pacific, Céline Cousteau seeks to educate through sharing her life of adventure and exploration.

Traveling the globe as an "oceanaut" and educational ambassador, Cousteau is the daughter of ocean explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau and the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the explorer, author and filmmaker who co-developed the Aqua-Lung.

A respected member of a new generation of environmentalists/explorers, Celine Cousteau is dedicated to adding to humanity's knowledge of and respect for the natural world.

For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468