How a Speaker Series Connects Our Community


“Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha – Book Signing” by umseas is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Allison Liang, Print Sports Editor

For most people around the world, COVID-19 has been a major disturbance in daily life and an obstacle when it comes to connecting with others. However, at PDS, senior Tommy Bocian is constantly finding new ways to connect, inspire, and unite the PDS community through his Upper School Speaker Series.

When asked why he decided to organize the series, Bocian shared, “I have attended several lecture series over the years, some for fun and some required for a STEM program I was a part of, and I was always so excited to learn about so many different niche topics from experts devoting their entire careers to them.” Bocian wanted to provide a similar experience for others: “I think the PDS community could really benefit from that sort of opportunity during remote learning because the experience at home lacks the vigor and excitement that we bring to the classroom every day.” Carefully taking account of the COVID-19 situation, Bocian saw that it would be the perfect time to hold a speaker series, explaining, “I hope that people can take an hour a week aside and learn from incredible speakers about fields we may not otherwise hear about due to the pandemic. Also, I figured that some speakers would be more willing to speak virtually because they have more free time and don’t need to leave their houses, which spurred me to start reaching out to people. Why not, right? In this situation, I had absolutely nothing to lose.”  

However, Bocian admitted that the impressive lineup of speakers was not easy to schedule at all: “Organizing the series was challenging. I was looking for a specific type of speaker – a legit expert, but not someone so famous that I would have to go through a booking agency or speaker fees, which is just too hard to get. Finding this niche was more difficult because I had to dig a little deeper to encounter people I may not have known much about in the first place. I probably blasted out emails to at least 50 or 60 experts, if not more. Since 4 responded yes, that’s a single-digit success rate. Not so good. Most of these people are very busy, and it takes some luck to get responses. On the positive side, though, the people that do respond are invested in this sort of thing and excited to speak with us. Amb. Gadsden gave us all the sense that he really cared about talking to high schoolers, and I would expect the same for the next wave of speakers..” Bocian also credited his success with the speaker series to support from his teachers at PDS: “I was lucky to have excellent support from Mr. Powers, so scheduling was pretty easy, and I got green-lighted to reach out to experts very quickly. “

Bocian’s speaker series’ lineup is not only impressive, but also cleverly contrasts the speakers’ varying stances on similar issues: “I chose these speakers because they are experts across multiple different fields of interest and have a diverse range of beliefs. For example, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is a staunch progressive who fought tooth and nail for the children of Flint during and after the water crisis, framing it as much of an issue of social justice as a failure of public health. On the other hand, Gov. Christine Todd Whitman was a Republican governor and George W. Bush’s first EPA Administrator, advocating for a more economics-based approach to environmentalism through preserving land and encouraging sustainable business development. In fact, she now runs a consulting firm that advises business clients on that very topic. I wanted to incorporate as much ideological diversity into the series as I could because I want to highlight the fact that there are multiple perspectives on ways to solve similar problems, and we should approach these issues in a far more cooperative manner than we do now. If you pay attention over the next couple of weeks, you may hear me ask the exact same question to different speakers to draw out where they agree and disagree.”

For avid fans of the series, Bocian gladly revealed that his series is now up to five speakers, after successfully inviting Gretchen Carlson and Julie Roginsky for May 26. Still, Bocian is trying to find more speakers to come share their insights in the upcoming weeks. While COVID-19 may be keeping us apart, Bocian’s speaker series will surely be keeping us united with experts on Google Meet!