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Local Johns Hopkins student enjoys success as symposium co-chair

January 18, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Jason Alexander, best known for his role as George on the hit TV series "Seinfeld," was just as Leslie Schoeck of Hagerstown had imagined.

"He was hilarious. We were crying at dinner because we were laughing so hard. On stage he was a riot," said Schoeck, 20, a 2004 North Hagerstown High School graduate.

A junior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Schoeck was one of three students chosen to co-chair the Milton S. Eisenhower Speaker Symposium 2006, which was a one-year commitment.

The symposium is a highly regarded fall event that brings a variety of speakers - politicians, celebrities and activists - to the university's Homewood Campus.

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Alexander was one of eight speakers Schoeck and co-chairs, Abash Massed and Steven Farmer, secured for the symposium, "Finding Our Voice: The Role of America's Youth."

The other speakers included: Harry Belafonte; Ralph Nader; the Rev. James Forbes, the first African-American senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, an interdenominational, interracial, international church built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1927; Newt Gingrich; Afeni Shakur, activist and mother of rapper Tupac Shakur; Petra Nemcova, the Czech supermodel who started the Happy Hearts Fund in 2005 after surviving the tsunami in Southeast Asia; and musical guest hip hop artist Immortal Technique.

A debate between the college's Democrats and Republicans also took place prior to the November elections as part of the symposium.

The symposium, which was started in 1967, was free and open to university students and the public with speakers scheduled from September to November. Schoeck said the highlight for the three co-chairs was having dinner with each speaker before their presentation.

"Dinner with these people made it worth it. It was surreal. I'd always call home with stories of each speaker," said Schoeck.

As a co-chair, Schoeck put in long hours to earn the perk. To be selected as co-chairs, her team compiled a 90-page proposal, which they put into motion in December 2005, staying on campus throughout the summer to finalize details.

The trio came up with a list of potential speakers, but many didn't work out because of previous commitments.

Schoeck's job was fundraising, and the other co-chairs were responsible for programming and publicity. Each of the co-chairs had about five students on their committee.

The finance portion was no small feat with some speakers charging as much as $25,000 for an appearance. The university said it would give the students up to $45,000 for the symposium and expected $40,000 to $50,000 to be raised.

The other obstacle was that Schoeck and her co-chairs inherited several thousands of dollars of debt from the previous symposium. Schoeck added that as she and her co-chairs prepare to hand over the symposium to its new co-chairs, the symposium has money to spare.

Schoeck focused on grant opportunities and contacted corporations and area businesses to raise money. For the first time, student families were allowed to buy season passes which guaranteed them front row seating.

"It was definitely a good fundraising year," said Schoeck, a German major with a minor in entrepreneurship and management.

Juggling the time commitments of the symposium and keeping up with coursework was a challenge, but one Schoeck handled well with planning and organization. She looks forward to more free time this year and is thinking about starting a music program to teach piano to Baltimore city children, similar to one she started at Fountaindale Elementary when she was in high school.

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