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President of Ireland Mary McAleese to visit Syracuse University on May 1
President of Ireland Mary McAleese to visit Syracuse University on May 1April 02, 2007Kevin Morrowkdmorrow@syr.edu
President of Ireland Mary McAleese will visit Syracuse University on Tuesday, May 1, for an afternoon of events in culmination of the School of Education’s Centennial Year Celebration and marking the threshold of its next 100 years.
“President McAleese champions many of the core themes that characterize our School of Education: advocacy for educational opportunity and equity, vigorous support for disability rights and inclusion, education through literature and the arts, and above all peace and reconciliation,” says Dean Douglas Biklen. “It is a remarkable honor to have her help us celebrate our first 100 years and to launch us into another century of scholarship in action.”
The day’s activities:
- At noon, she will be the guest of honor at a by-invitation luncheon at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel & Conference Center involving SU students and faculty, disability organization representatives, members of the local Irish community, elected officials and area education leaders, among others.
- At 2 p.m., she will address the Central New York community at Hendricks Chapel; her presentation will be webcast live.
- Afterward, she will meet with students and staff during a tour of the SU College of Law’s Disability Rights Clinic in MacNaughton Hall.
“This is a signature moment for our students and community. President McAleese is the living embodiment of what we mean by Scholarship in Action — a leader who has drawn from her personal and educational experiences and values to develop meaningful policy to promote opportunity, creativity, community and peace,” says SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “And we are fortunate to have representing us Congressman Jim Walsh, who today is in Belfast as part of a congressional delegation meeting with leaders organizing a new government for Northern Ireland. He knows not only Mary McAleese very well, but also her phenomenal work on behalf of the Irish people.”
“President McAleese is a friend and someone who I admire. I look forward to meeting with her this week in Dublin, then welcoming her to Syracuse on May 1,” says Walsh, co-chairman of the House Ad-Hoc Committee on Ireland. “A native of Northern Ireland, President McAleese has worked to advance issues of equality and inclusion, personal advancement and social justice throughout her professional and public service life. I know university students and the Central New York community will value her insight and depth of experience.”
The eighth president of Ireland, McAleese was inaugurated in November 1997 and re-elected in October 2004. Born in Belfast in 1951, she is the first Irish president to come from Northern Ireland. A barrister and former professor of law, McAleese was the first Catholic and the first woman to serve as pro-vice chancellor of the Queen’s University of Belfast. She also is an experienced broadcaster, having been a current affairs reporter with Radio Telefis Eireann.
Her visit is believed to be the first to SU by a sitting head of state from outside the United States. The University has previously hosted U.S. presidents while in office (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson) and afterward (Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Bill Clinton), as well as ambassadors and other dignitaries from various nations, but a review of historical records indicates never before has another country’s president or prime minister come to campus.
The invitation came about through a conversation between Cantor and Michael Schwartz, assistant professor of law and director of the Disability Rights Clinic, last fall at a campus reception. Schwartz mentioned he was a close friend with the president of Ireland. He and his wife, Patricia, had met McAleese in 1995 through a mutual acquaintance in Belfast and had developed a friendship based on several common interests, not the least of which was disability services for the deaf; Schwartz is deaf, as is McAleese’s younger brother, John.
Schwartz wondered if the University would be interested in McAleese visiting campus.
When Cantor responded with an immediate and enthusiastic yes, a trans-Atlantic conversation started shaping up. And Schwartz hand-delivered a letter from the Chancellor to the Irish leader last November during a conference in Belfast at which McAleese was speaking.
Given McAleese’s efforts in the field of disability rights education and advocacy — a passion shared by Schwartz, who holds a Ph.D. in education and disability studies from SU, and embodied in both the distinguished history and modern-day programs of SU’s School of Education — it seemed a natural fit to tie the president’s visit to the school’s centennial celebration.
“The School of Education shares President McAleese’s vision of `Building Bridges’ — the theme of her presidency,” Biklen says. “She is deeply interested in many social issues, especially justice, equality, social inclusion, education, youth opportunity, disability rights, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation — all of which have been central concerns of students and faculty in our School of Education.
“She has described the danger of allowing youth to `slip out of mainstream education and into a life only half-lived, (where) they remain strangers (even) to themselves’ and, conversely, the promise of educational opportunity that is tantamount to `opening up the valves which allow ? the free flow of ? genius.’ It is a great privilege that she will speak at the culminating event of our school’s 100th anniversary.”
Additional information about McAleese and her visit to SU is available online at http://soe100.syr.edu.
Established in 1906, SU’s School of Education is a national leader in improving and informing educational practice for diverse communities. The school is committed to the principle that diverse learning communities create the conditions that both enrich the educational experience and provide opportunities for all to realize their full potential. A pioneer in the inclusion movement in the United States, the School of Education is dedicated to finding new ways to make it possible for all learners to participate fully in mainstream classrooms and other inclusive learning environments.