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A Birthday for CLAS
Birthdays are often as much a time for reflection as celebration. While acknowledging the passing of the years, it also allows the opportunity to think about events and achievements, as well as the people and interactions that make up the course of one’s life.
The birthday of an institution is no different. In the case of the academic institution, the most important products are not the research reports or publications but rather the students. Although most only spend four years within the lecture halls, libraries, and grounds that make up a campus, the influence of the university experience on the individual is immense. As proven by the strong ties that alumni feel to UF, while the students make the university, the university also shapes the students.
Although many universities across the United States boast of particular strengths in particular areas, one of the University of Florida’s most attractive features is its array of renowned programs. From the Levin College of Law to the College of Journalism and Communication, the Warrington College of Business Administration to the College of Nursing, the University of Florida has managed to promote excellence across many fields.
Yet it is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and the achievements of the many thousands of students who have taken courses and graduated with majors from within its numerous subject areas, which might best display the type of scholastic diversity fostered at UF. Whether in the study of changes and preservation in the Everglades or the necessity of new critical approaches to Shakespeare studies, measuring quantum mechanical forces or examining the role of Florida in national elections, the wide spectrum of subject areas offered within CLAS is represented by the eclectic types of careers that CLAS Gators pursue.
Thus, on the 100th birthday of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Alumni CLASnotes presents seven short portraits of some of the students who call UF’s CLAS their alma mater:
Dexter Filkins, B.A., Political Science
Driving north toward Baghdad in a rented SUV, foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins scans the horizon. The luminescent orange of the burning oil wells flickers against the backdrop of the sky. He drives on. For some time he counts the Iraqi uniforms that have been abandoned on the side of the road by Saddam Hussein’s retreating army. Empty trenches and discarded tanks and trucks litter the immediate landscape. Soon after, Filkins happens upon some marines and three Iraqi prisoners. The Iraqis had been sleeping under a bridge when the marines came upon them. Filkins takes out his notebook, asks the marines and the Iraqis some questions, and begins to jot down notes for his next story for the New York Times, one of the world’s most renowned news organizations.
Marshall Nirenberg, B.A., M.A., Zoology
Walking on to the stage, Marshall Nirenberg prepares to receive one of the most prestigious prizes in any field in the world. His groundbreaking work in deciphering the genetic code has led him to be recognized by both his peers and the scientific world, resulting in his being awarded with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Despite the publicity surrounding Nirenberg’s research, it is difficult at the time to anticipate just how far reaching his work will turn out to be. After winning the Nobel Prize, Nirenberg will be awarded the National Medal of Honor, go on to research within the expanding realm of neuroscience and neural development, and eventually be elected to the American Philosophical Society.
With the pale winter light and craggy trees of rural Pennsylvania providing a spooky backdrop, Jonathan Demme calls for quiet on the set. The cast and crew take position and ready themselves for the director’s next words. Demme is in the process of directing a dark thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, which will introduce one of movie history’s most infamous and iconic characters, the murderous genius Dr. Hannibal Lecter, to a worldwide audience. A couple of years later, Demme will repeat his success by directing Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance in Philadelphia, one of the first films to deal with the discrimination suffered by those with HIV and AIDS. As well as directing feature films, Demme will travel to the impoverished capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, to make the critically acclaimed The Agronomist, an account of the life of Jean Dominque, the assassinated Haitian journalist and activist. (Demme studied chemistry at UF in the 1960s.)
Deborah Dunger, B.A., English
After her appointment as the president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, Deborah Dunger takes a moment to explain to an interviewer that in Italy Mickey Mouse is known as Topolino and is a truly Italian character. She also mentions how in Finland another of Disney’s “American” icons, Donald Duck, is not American but Finnish: a character who embraces all the specifics of Finnish culture. As the head of the largest children’s book publisher in the world, with publications in more than 55 languages and spread across 74 nations, Dunger continues Disney’s legacy of reaching across cultures.
As he hurtles through the sky towards outer space, Bill Nelson prepares to join some elite company. Not only is he one of a very small percentage of people to have experienced spaceflight, he is just the second sitting member of the United States Congress to do so. After returning from his time aboard the space shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist for NASA, Nelson continued his career in politics. After unsuccessfully running for Governor of Florida in 1990, ten years later Nelson aimed for a position in the Senate. In 2000, he defeated Bill McCollum and becomes Senator, a position he continues to hold to this day. (Nelson attended UF in the early 1960s.)
Shere Hite, M.A., History
Few scientific reports sell 48 million copies worldwide. Shere Hite, the sex researcher/ cultural historian behind The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, achieved just that, and in the process became one of the leading voices of the sexual revolution. Following in the steps of Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, Hite focused primarily on female sexuality and used personal questionnaires to investigate sexual practices amongst women from a variety of different backgrounds. Although controversial and considered shocking by some facets of society, Hite’s work stands as an important moment in the study of human sexuality.