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Richard Leakey Comes to Springfield College to Give Lecture

Luke Brown
Assistant Online Editor





Photo Courtesy: Richard Leakey Facebook Page
Photo Courtesy: Richard Leakey Facebook Page

That “ah ha!” moment that everyone yearns for sometimes comes when they least expect it. For Carlton Sedgeley, Class of 1963, his defining moment came when famed anthropologist Margaret Mead came to Springfield College many moons ago. Sedgeley wanted to go into athletics, but after hearing Mead speak he was fortunate enough to have his “ah ha!” moment.

“Carlton said, ‘It was nothing that Mead said, but just being in her presence,’” relayed Dr. Anne Herzog, who is the Dean for the School of Arts, Sciences and Professional Studies at Springfield College. After obtaining a degree, Sedgeley went on to establish his own agency for writers and public speakers.

Sedgeley hopes that current Springfield College students will have a similar experience when world-renowned anthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey comes to speak to students and faculty about exploring a life of discovery and activism next Thursday night at 7. The free event will be held in the Cleveland E. and Phyllis B. Dodge Room.

Leakey will be the first speaker in the Arts & Humanities speaker series, which has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Sedgeley and his wife, Lucille.

Herzog said, “I’ve read about his life and I just thought what an amazing person who has pursued his passions in really supporting our mission in service to humankind and in service to wildlife.”

The work that Herzog is alluding to is the decades of service Leakey has devoted to politics and conservation.

The Leakey family is famous worldwide for its contributions to anthropology.  When Richard was a young boy, his parents—Louis and Mary Leakey—allowed him to work in the field, but he was determined to make a name for himself.

Leakey went on to start the Kenya Museum Associates, as an attempt to improve the National Museum in his homeland. Leakey became an outspoken critic of the killing of elephants for their ivory.

“He’s somebody who has had a very ethical and very moral sense about the importance of preserving wildlife diversity,” noted Herzog. “He didn’t just think it or sign a petition, but he took public leadership roles and I think that very much connects with humanics.”

Board members of the National Museum became quite fond of Leakey and his causes. The well wishes from colleagues eventually led to him being appointed to the director of Kenyan Wildlife Services (KWS) by President Daniel Moi in 1989.  His leadership led to an aggressive approach to stop poachers from killing the majestic elephants.

His actions—including consent to authorities to shoot poachers—offended  many local politicians. Furthermore, he believes sabotage was the reason that a plane piloted by him crashed in 1993. While Leakey’s legs were crushed in the accident (and later amputated), he didn’t allow this event to crush his mission.

After resigning from the KWS, Leakey began to focus his attention on what he believed was political corruption in Kenya. In 1997, his political party received its first major breakthrough when it was officially sanctioned. In 1999, Leakey became a secretary in the Kenyan cabinet, where he fought hard to build ethical government.

Leakey’s time in office can be characterized as a positive time period for Kenyan politics. “In service to the larger world he certainly has been a huge public servant,” Herzog said.

Leakey retired from politics in 2001, but according to a biography on his website, “He continues to fight for political justice in Kenya.”

In addition to giving lectures, he currently is a faculty member at Stony Brook University in the Department of Anthropology.

Sedgeley will not be hearing Leakey for the first time on Thursday. According to Herzog, Sedgeley “recommended Leakey to us as a very dynamic speaker that the students would find interesting.”

It is almost unfathomable to come to terms with the fact that just one man has accomplished all that Leakey has. He definitely accomplished his original hope that he could break off of the family trade and create a name for himself.

“I don’t think there is just one [accomplishment that is the greatest] because as I read about his life I think that he has been an incredibly honest and courageous critic of corruption in government,” said Herzog. “I think his efforts to preserve biodiversity have been huge. He has several books that are great accomplishments as well.”

The number of articles and books that Leakey has written surpasses 100. Perhaps his greatest book was his piece that was published in 1995, titled “The Sixth Extinction.” In this great piece of literature Leakey examines the five biggest extinctions in history. He also mentions that humans are reducing biodiversity, damaging ecosystems and ultimately will participate in the next big extinction.

Despite not having an archeology major on campus, Herzog still believes that Leakey’s appearance will be very beneficial to students. “I think this is an important event and an important night for us to have a speaker of this magnitude, who is internationally renowned, on our campus. I hope that students will take advantage of this,” Herzog said.

She believes that Leakey fits perfectly with Springfield College’s focus on humanics. “We said to him that we have a very active student body,” Herzog noted. “We have a lot of students who care about making a difference in their lives and a difference in the world, so we specifically asked him to speak about exploring a life of discovery and activism.”

Leakey may or may not deliver that “ah ha!” moment for a student, but everyone can learn something from Leakey’s vast and successful background.

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