Great Guests

Branson is committed to an interconnected educational experience for our students. As part of this commitment, every year Branson brings incredible people — thinkers, activists, educators, professionals, alumni, community members, and leaders — to offer words, expertise, and thought-provoking ideas to our students, faculty and staff, and parents. This past year was filled with a vibrant array of speakers, some of whom we feature below. 

Dr. Cornel West and Bakari Kitwana

Human Development Day is a special day every year for our community. This year was no exception. On January 21, 2020, a day entitled “Branson — a Beloved Community,” Branson welcomed two renowned scholars as keynote speakers: Dr. Cornel West, one of the foremost experts on social justice in our country, and Bakari Kitwana, an internationally known cultural critic, journalist, activist, and thought leader in the area of hip-hop, youth culture, and Black political engagement.

Their two presentations — for parents and for the student body — were highlights of the day. 

Speaking of their own life experiences, and referencing a diverse group of individuals including John Coltrane, Willie Mays, Hamlet, Socrates, Jesus, and Marvin Gaye, West and Kitwana seamlessly wove together a rich tapestry with threads of history, personal anecdotes, remembrances, literature, philosophy, music, and politics. West and Bakari challenged Branson students, parents, teachers, and friends to follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and to “cultivate wisdom, tenacity, and the courage to love.” The end result was a deeply provocative, richly-hued, and unsentimental portrait of love and its power to change the world: 

“Love is the commitment to the betterment of others. Justice is what love looks like in public … You are not self-made. I am who I am because somebody loved me. Martin Luther King Jr. was a love warrior; he believed that love was the key that unlocks the door and leads to ultimate experience.”

It was a powerful and special day for the Branson community – but certainly not just a one-off.

Each and every day, the Branson community engages in dialogue, learning, and self-exploration around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is thanks to the efforts of devoted faculty and staff who work to bring DEI into the student experience, guided by Branson’s DEI director, Dr. JuanCarlos Arauz.

Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist

Rick Atkinson

In January 2020, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author Rick Atkinson joined sophomore and junior U.S. History Honors students for an informal talk, touching on highlights from his most recent book, The British Are Coming, and shared insights into his research process and discoveries. 

 As part of his research into the book, the first of a trilogy, Atkinson was among the first to access the newly available archive of King George III’s papers, held at Windsor Castle. Working through archival material, he said, is like panning for gold at Sutter’s Mill and looking for flecks of detail. 

Students asked questions about Atkinson’s views on the British perception of the American colonies and parallels between the American Revolution and World War II, the subject of his last history trilogy.

Dr. Joseph Shalev, Holocaust survivor

In March 2020, Dr. Joseph Shalev spoke with sophomores in Modern World History about his experiences during the Holocaust in Vilnius, Poland. Dr. Shalev shared his memories of hiding in the sewers with his family and his eventual escape to France, and then Israel. 

Students had the chance to ask Dr. Shalev questions and then completed written reflections after his visit. The students expressed gratitude for the opportunity to hear stories and memories from a Holocaust survivor.

Adam Bradley, author and Professor of English University of Colorado, Boulder 

In Malik Ali’s History of Hip-Hop seminar, Adam Bradley, professor of English at the University of Colorado, joined students on April 2, 2020 to talk about the poetics of Hip-Hop, being a scholar of the art form, and writing memoirs for artists like rapper/actor Common. He’s been talking to Branson classes (Af-Am Lit 1, American Lit 2, Hip Hop) since 2012.

 Students asked Dr. Bradley about maintaining an authentic voice while writing a memoir, the evolution of hip-hop’s artistry, the value of different components of hip-hop music, and his thoughts on the most influential rapper of the past 10 years (the short answer: Kendrick Lamar, but Kanye West, Cardi B, and Megan Thee Stallion were also contenders).

Dr. Christine Carter, author, sociologist, speaker, coach

Dr. Christine Carter, author of The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction, joined Head of School Chris Mazzola and Branson parents for a discussion on April 16, 2020. Dr. Carter talked about the unique characteristics of teenagers and how they are being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 Dr. Carter and Chris discussed ways to keep high-schoolers engaged and positive during these challenging times while in an online learning environment. These strategies included allowing students the opportunity to manage their own schedules, helping them take a small step back from socializing to find their larger role in society during a difficult time, and creating clearer limits on devices, particularly for younger teenagers and kids. They also discussed the positive side – how teenagers are learning valuable lessons on coping with loneliness and building internal resilience.