Worlds of Experience: Middlesex Community College Prepares for 20th Annual Celebrity Forum
Few people can say they have met Colin Powell, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, Jay Leno and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
But Carole Cowan has met them and many more. All of these noted individuals have taken the stage at the Middlesex Community College Celebrity Forum series, an event that has been held each spring since 1999. The series has featured a range of individuals from the worlds of politics, sports, Hollywood and television news. While all have achieved fame, the series highlights work of theirs that sometimes goes unnoticed.
Cowan started the series when she was president of the college as a fundraiser that was also designed to raise its community profile. For a model, she looked to her alma mater, Salem State University, which began sponsoring a similar series in 1982.
The first guest at the Middlesex forum was Walter Cronkite, who was interviewed during the program by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. The evening was a huge success.
“We chose [Cronkite] because of his reputation as the ‘most trusted man in America,’ ” Cowan says. “He was someone with a world of experience who could talk about topics from the vantage point of a news anchor.”
Another notable celebrity speaker was retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, who later served as secretary of state for President George W. Bush. Powell’s message at the forum in 2000 focused largely on his work as the founding chairman of America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit that promotes childhood education.
Since then, the college has hosted a mix of individuals, including William Shatner, Tim Russert, Robert Redford, Ken Burns, Mike and Chris Wallace, and Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager.
“They are all so different,” Cowan says. “All of them were so interesting. I was really delighted to meet them all. Every one of them has left us with warm comments about the college and the community. It was a rewarding experience for them, too.”
Planning for each forum takes at least a year. Proceeds from the evening support scholarships for students who are struggling financially to complete their studies at Middlesex or to help them continue toward a bachelor’s degree at UMass Lowell. Since 2004, 122 scholarships have been awarded totaling $304,500.
Having the opportunity to meet and engage with a celebrity is fun for the audience, says MCC President James Mabry. Mabry met many notable historians before his arrival at MCC. While he was working his way through college and working as a New York City cab driver, he once gave Cronkite a lift. But the forum has given Mabry access to people he likely wouldn’t have met otherwise, including Red Sox legend David Ortiz. The former slugger was last year’s featured speaker, and Mabry remembers wondering if the retired baseball star would display the same personality that fans have seen on TV.
“He gave me a hug. He was very friendly,” Mabry says.
That evening was even more special for Mabry because it gave him the chance to invite longtime friends and their teenage son, all of whom are huge fans of the Red Sox and Ortiz.
“It really meant a lot to them,” Mabry says.
Actress, photographer, children’s book author and philanthropist Jamie Lee Curtis will be the speaker this year. Curtis is best known for her work in movies such as “A Fish Called Wanda,” “True Lies,” and John Carpenter’s “Halloween” series. Her philanthropic work includes advocating for children’s hospitals.
The forum will take place on Friday, June 8, at 8 p.m. at Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium box office, by phone at (866) 722-8881 or online at LowellAuditorium.com.