Assistant Online Editor
Usually when President Mary-Beth Cooper steps to the microphone, everyone is in attendance to listen to the 13th President of Springfield College.
Wednesday, Oct. 16, however, was not a usual event. Springfield College was very fortunate to hear Dr. Richard Leakey explain how he was able to gofrom high school dropout to one of the Top 100 Influential Thinkers of the 20th Century, according to Times Magazine.
More than 800 students, faculty, and members of the community were in attendance to listen to the Kenya native talk about exploring a life of activism and discovery. With Springfield College’s emphasis on humanics and spirit, mind, and body, Leakey was the ideal speaker for the school.
“I can’t think of anyone better that personifies spirit, mind, and body,” Cooper said to the audience in the Campus Union Dodge Room. “I don’t know how we’re going to top it next year.”
About 500 people crammed into Dodge while the other pupils watched a simulcast on a screen in the Fuller Arts Center. Unfortunately for those in Fuller Arts the acoustics didn’t come off very clearly.
“It was definitely a bummer,” said Springfield College sophomore Tim Parker, who was at the Fuller Arts Viewing. “I wish I could have been in Dodge because from what I hear it was absolutely an incredible event.”
Those in Dodge, however, experienced a speech that will not be easily forgotten. Leakey had an incredible sense of humor that magnified the incredible persona that he already carried.
“Absolutely incredible,” explained Springfield College sophomore JP Peters, who witnessed Leakey from Dodge.
One of the many humorous moments came when Leakey talked about a time when he fell over because one of his prosthetic legs slipped off due to sweat. “The point of the story is that it’s funny; you should laugh,” Leakey explained as he made jokes directed at his disability. “Don’t take things too seriously. It was just a silly limb.”
While it was indeed evident that sharing a laugh with people was important to Leakey, he stressed many times to never let an opportunity pass you by.
“Honesty, integrity, and opportunity are things that are important to me,” Leakey admitted. “Opportunities have the ability to keep passing by. There are always opportunities so you must take advantage of them.”
Leakey has certainly taken advantage of many opportunities in his lifetime and because of this a biopic movie is expected to come out in 2016. The movie is being directed by Hollywood legend Angelina Jolie.
“I’ve felt a deep connection to Africa and its culture for much of my life,” Jolie told The Hollywood Reporter. Jolie goes on to talk about the movie itself saying, “A man drawn into the violent conflict with elephant poachers who emerged with a deeper understanding of man’s footprint and a profound sense of responsibility for the world around him.”
The anti-poaching efforts of Leakey have allowed for the black rhino series to go from nearly extinct to growing in population year-after-year. Leakey pleads for other nations to help with the cause as he notes that Kenyans don’t have the resources to do it themselves.
The influence that Dr. Leakey has had on the anti-poaching efforts has definitely been exponential, but it’s also definitely not the only part of his life that could be made into a movie.
From having his pants ripped off by a crocodile trying to eat him alive, to having his car lit on fire in spite of him, to having a kidney and liver transplant, to having his legs crushed in a plane crash, which he and many others believe was an assassination attempt, Leakey has certainly defied all odds.
The irony in all of it is that when he was in high school his headmaster told him that he showed no potential or leadership skills. It turns out that the headmaster had very bad judging skills. While he did end up earning a degree, Leakey was a high school dropout.
“I loathed being educated,” confessed Leakey, who is now a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. “I always tell educators to stop educating and start teaching students how to educate themselves.”
Once he educated himself and earned a degree, he began to run the Kenyan museums but knew this wasn’t his final destination as he still yearned for a profession. Meanwhile his father pushed him to get a doctorate degree.
“My father said that if I didn’t have a PhD then no one would take me seriously,” Leakey recalled. He never went to school for his doctorate but has received honorary doctorate degrees from numerous colleges and universities.
Him and his father never had a strong father-son bond, and he said that he didn’t have any doubts regarding his career but went on to admit, “I wish I wouldn’t have disappointed my father.”
His father and headmaster weren’t the only ones that told him that he wasn’t capable of something that he ended up doing, as the President of Kenya asked Leakey what he thought would be the next best mission for him. Leakey had an itch to get into government and fix the corruption.
At the end of the speech Leakey did a Q&A with the crowd. Perhaps the most incredible and tear-jerking moment of the night was when a Kenyan man took the microphone and stood up as all 800 spectators members waited for him to ask his question like his predecessors had done.
Instead the man, who had no known affiliation with Springfield College, threw the crowd a Clayton Kershaw curveball and just simply thanked Dr. Leakey for all he had done for the motherland that the only two men standing shared.
While the incredible night could have ended there, it didn’t. Leakey answered more questions, including things like which accomplishment is he most proud of. Leakey explained, “It’s like asking, ‘What’s the best day?’ I just can’t pick one. They’ve all been great. Would I do it differently? I probably should but I wouldn’t.”
So where exactly does this man—who has unmitigated so much that he is to the point where he can’t even decide which success trumps the others—get the passion to keep doing more and more?
Everyone in the crowd wondered but only one was brave enough to ask. Just as people have done for about the past half-century everyone attentively listened as if Leakey were about to tell everyone the meaning of life. Instead he simply said, “I don’t really know what passion means but I just enjoy what I do so I’m going to keep doing it. I don’t let things like a liver transplant or a leg falling off bring me down.”
At the conclusion of Leakey’s unforgettable speech Dr. Anne Herzog, who is the Dean for the School of Arts, Sciences, and Professional Studies at Springfield College, let everyone know that Leakey was done speaking and President Cooper would end the night.
A British-muttering Leakey got in one last joke as he said, “Oh thank God.” After a laugh everyone stood up and gave Dr. Leakey a well-deserved standing ovation.