ELMHURST - This month, community members are welcome to the Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church for the viewing of the January Series.
From former first daughter Barbara Pierce Bush to engineer and NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, the event showcases a wide range of professionals with stories of overcoming adversities and relishing in personal triumphs, all working toward one common goal: to make the world a better place.
Entering its 32nd year, the January Series is curated by and organized through Calvin College, a liberal arts college in Grand Rapids, Mich. The idea for the event was inspired by the college’s unique curriculum, according to series director Kristi Potter.
During January, students are required to take one intensive class for 15 days, which left their mid days free. The college opted to offer free lectures on campus, and “we opened the doors to the community and invited them to come in as well and join us,” Potter said.
Since 2005, the college expanded the series by partnering with different institutions across the country to broadcast its cultural art series. This is the first year that the Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church participated as a host site.
The series officially kicked off Jan. 3 with Calvin College professor Todd Cioffi and his presentation titled “The Transformative and Redemptive Power of a (Christian) Education.”
“Things are happening in the world,” Potter said, noting the full idea of the series is to “help us think deeply about important issues of the day” in an effort to be continual learners and global citizens.
“So, we want our audience to always be learning and tackling whatever it might be relevant at the time," Potter said.
Sheri Van Spronsen-Leppink, a communications director at the Elmhurst Christian Reformed Church, saw Arthur C. Brooks’ talk on “Bringing America Together” on Jan. 4. Among many things, Brooks is a New York Times columnist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, whose work has focused on bridging the gaps between culture, economics and politics.
“He was phenomenal just in terms of kind of looking at things, helping me maybe look at things differently, and talking about issues related to contempt in our society right now and how to respond to contempt,” Van Spronsen-Leppink said.
She also commented on Cheng-Ho Jimmy Lin, chief scientific officer of oncology at Natera, who spoke a few days after Brooks.
“I, like everyone else, know someone who has cancer, so there’s great promise in what they’re doing in terms of research,” Van Spronsen-Leppink said. “For myself also, it provides me the idea that monies that have gone towards this are being used for really good things that are happening.”
Other notable guests include Nicholas Kristof, also a New York Times columnist (Jan. 14); Ruth Carter, a Hollywood costume designer best known for her work in "Roots," "Selma" and most recently, "Black Panther" (Jan. 18); and Rachael Denhollander, an advocate, educator and survivor of sexual assault (Jan. 22).
As an event organizer, Potter said it’s hard for her to choose who she’s most excited to see.
“It’s like picking your favorite child,” she joked. When pressed, she named Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland, who will speak on Jan. 23, closing out the series. A full list of the January Series speakers is featured on the college’s website at calvin.edu/january-series/speakers/.
For Potter and Van Spronsen-Leppink, they hope that audience members can walk away with a sense of knowledge and an initiative to continue the conversation on the topics discussed. In time for the New Year, the series, above all, is a call for change and need for inspiration.
“We just kind of see it as being able to give a gift of the kind of education that we’re having every day,” Potter said.