This past Friday revealed a lot about the state of our world. In Tunisia, gunmen mowed down 38 beachgoers; at a Kuwaiti mosque, an ISIS-sponsored suicide bombing killed 27 worshippers; at a factory in France, a man bearing flags inscribed with Islamic writing beheaded his boss; and in the United States, a South Carolina pastor was laid to rest after he and eight other African Americans were shot during a Bible study.
On this very dark day around the world, what took place in Brisbane was refreshing to say the least. At Christian Heritage College, 60 emerging leaders spent their Friday night reading Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and C S Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory.”
They were preparing for several seminars that would take place the following day, in which students examined great texts of history, literature, philosophy and theology. These round-table discussions anchored the Witherspoon Fellowship, a two-day gathering of Year 10-12 students seeking a different approach to learning and leading. CHC President Prof Darren Iselin, Malyon College lecturer David Benson and I facilitated these Socratic-style conversations.
Coming from 12 different schools in South East Queensland, the delegates also interacted with established leaders in various career fields. They heard first-hand accounts of how these political, business, educational, medical, legal and journalistic professionals faced and overcame challenges in their respective disciplines.
Participants also honed their skills in liberal arts subjects like rhetoric and logic through a public speaking competition and formal debates. Having read together in Shakespeare’s Henry V the famous St Crispin’s Day speech—as well as Henry’s attempt to woo the daughter of the French King he defeated—delegates chose to deliver one of the following presentations: 1) a locker-room talk to a hypothetical sports team about to enter the grand finals, or 2) a persuasive attempt to woo the (real) daughter of the CHC president! The results were as impressive as they were hilarious.
An event pursuing “leadership through the liberal arts” would not be complete without an Oxford-style formal dinner and that unique combination of gymnastics and music known as ballroom dancing. Who knew pursuing the good, true and beautiful could be this much fun?
In an era where many seek leadership training through trendy tips and techniques,
it is refreshing to see young people taking a more patient and strategic approach. I
have to think that the future is bright when teenagers are willing to give a weekend in their holiday break to read, examine,
discuss, and practice the methods and arguments of Socrates, Shakespeare, King, and Lewis.
If anyone is looking for reasons to be hopeful for the future, there were 60 of them at the Witherspoon Fellowship this past weekend!