Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Central Illinois reacts to Gorbachev visit

Over 1200 guests from throughout Central Illinois gathered at the new Peoria Civic Center ballroom to see and hear former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

For full coverage of the Gorbachev visit, please see my post on the Peoria Pundit.

It was a rare opportunity for us all. A chance to be a part of history - and many are still talking about it. Dr. David Arnold, Eureka College President, is particularly pleased with how the event turned out.
I am still walking on air. In terms of preparation, the event was extremely well-orchestrated by my staff, and the campus visit was positively received by President Gorbachev and his daughter, Irina. In fact, he said it was one of the best days of his life!"
Dr. Arnold recalled a fond moment with the former president.
President Gorbachev asked what is meant by the expression "How will it play in Peoria?" The next day we were able to share with him the front page of the Saturday Peoria Journal Star. Obviously, we were able to show him that "Mikhail Gorbachev plays very well in Peoria!"
He also found him to be a very spontaneous and gracious guest. "He was always reaching out to people, asking them questions, and often showing a great sense of humor about the things he was experiencing during his visit."

Zachary Treadway is a teacher of Social Sciences at Pontiac Twp. High School. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with him and about 8 of his students at the "Witness to History" event. He sent me this e-mail:

I thought Gorbachev was excellent. The kids responded well to him, especially when he spoke about the importance of trying to understand people on a personal level and not buying in to propaganda and stereotypes. As educators we always stress to our students the importance of forming their own informed opinions about issues and people and it was great to hear one of the most important world leaders of the past century reinforce that.

Zachary's student, Shiann Poshard, a student at Pontiac Twp. High, had a somewhat mixed review on the lecture, but was very impressed with Gorbachev. He thought the first panelist was a little "out there". Overall, though, he did feel they did an effective job putting the period into perspective. Regarding Gorbachev himself, Shiann had this to say:

I thought Gorbachev did a wonderful job, and honestly I was just honored and very humbled to be in his presence. He was a very funny man, and this just reminded me that even though he is known for such a big event in history, he is also a real man who is like anyone else. What stood out to me the most of the whole presentation was that I got to really understand that even though the world was going through such a fear-full and panicked time, some people were able to keep a level head and make wise decisions that inevitably lead to peace and a better world in general. I was very moved at this banquet because opportunities to hear and see someone as influential like Gorbachev do not come too often. He changed the world in his own way, and I believe that if he can, then so can I and other people who want to make a difference.

Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis was pinching himself as he walked out onto the tarmac to greet the visiting President:
When walking across the tarmac I asked Rep. Leitch if he ever imagined he'd have an opportunity like this..... welcoming the former President of the Soviet Union to Peoria, Illinois. That's what I was thinking. How unlikely. It was almost unbelievable.
Jim explained that they welcomed Mr. Gorbachev through his interpreter, and he was very tired after a long day. He had had an extended lunch with George Shultz and Henry Kissinger earlier that day! Jim was moved by his comments Friday evening as well:

I thought his comments during his speech were amazing. The one thing that struck me was how lucky we were, collectively as citizens of the United States and Russia, to have these two men leading our countries at that particular time in history. Two men with bigger egos and less ability to communicate may never have had the success that Reagan and Gorbachev did as they moved the world towards nuclear disarmament.

Hmmm. Wise words regarding a world leader, from a local leader. Finally, a giant Thank you to Eureka College, particularly Michelle Lehman, for allowing me to be part of this awesome event!

1 comment:

Middle Aged Woman Blogging said...

A friend of mine was invited to sit at Gorbachev's table for dinner. She said it was surreal, loved every moment!