Inspirational speakers address 2019 Governor's School

Two renowned speakers shared anecdotes and answered questions on July 10 and 11, 2019 at the Summer Residential Governor’s School for Visual and Performing Arts and Humanities, hosted by Radford University. 

Nikki Giovanni – poet, author and University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech – and Anthony Robles, who was born with one leg but pushed through adversity to become a national wrestling champion. His autobiography “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated,” recounts this journey. Throught their remarks, these speakers advised, challenged and encouraged the Governor's School student body, comprising select high school students from Virginia’s 90 school districts.

Governor's School Assistant Director and Assistant Professor of English Amy Rubens, Ph.D., introduced Giovanni by challenging the students to be “intellectually adventurous.”

Nikki Giovanni

Professor Giovanni reflected on the 50th anniversary of man’s landing on the moon and the role of artists and writers in making that historic event happen.

“Writers who daydreamed were the ones who were looking up to the stars and asked, ‘I wonder how you get to the moon?’ They wrote poems and stories about it and the engineers did it. It is so important to sit alone and watch the stars. It is your genius,” said Giovanni.

During her two-hour presentation, Giovanni read two of her poems: an as-yet-released work called “When My Phone Trembles,” and one titled “Tennessean By Birth” that recalled the history of her home state and her connection to it.

A wide-ranging question-and-answer session followed with Giovanni fielding the Governor's School students’ questions about the writing process, current events and personal growth. Giovanni called on the students to have the courage to be guided by their inner convictions, saying, ““I know you can’t be what you don’t want to be, so be the best you that you can.”

Courage and strength were at the core of the message shared by Robles, who was introduced by Governor's School Director Wayne Gallops, Ph.D., professor of music at Radford University.

Robles won two Arizona state wrestling championships and culminated his collegiate career with an undefeated season in 2010-11 and an NCAA title at 125 pounds. Robles was the 2011 ESPY Jimmy V Perseverance Award winner and is currently a motivational speaker and entrepreneur.

Anthony Robles

On his journey, Robles developed a unique way of wrestling.

“I was blessed with some great coaches who said we are going to focus on your strengths,” Robles said. “It took a long time. there was a lot of trial and error and a lot of frustration, but as time went on, we developed a technique or style that people had not seen before and it became my advantage.”

Robles, like Giovanni, used poetry to connect with his audience. He read his poem called “Unstoppable,” that is the title of Robles’ autobiography.

“Every soul who comes to earth with a leg or two at birth
Must wrestle his opponent
Knowing it’s not what he is, it’s what he can be that measures worth.
Make it hard, just make it possible, and through pain, I’ll not complain.
My spirit is unconquerable.
Fearless, I will face each foe for I know I am capable.
I don’t care what’s probable, through blood, sweat and tears,
I am unstoppable.”

His reading inspired a standing ovation from the almost 400 Governor's School students.

Giovanni and Robles joined 65 faculty members from Radford University and across the region and 24 counselors to create a rich and varied college-like experience, themed “Being Counted.” The Governor's School immerses students, selected through auditions and a competitive application process, in their chosen fields through cross-disciplinary classes and activities.

Students in the visual and performing arts programs took courses in dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theatre and visual arts. Humanities students explored history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, political science, economics, sociology, psychology and media. In the process, the students experienced college life – residence halls, classroom and laboratory work, field studies, research, individual and group projects, performances, seminars and presentations with noted scholars, visiting artists and professionals, such as Giovanni and Robles.

The 2019 Governor's School concluded with a series of academic showcases and performances. Dance students performed on July 17 in Bondurant Auditorium. On July 18, humanities students presented their work and theatre students showcased their work on July 19 in Pridemore Theatre. Music students performed in the Davis Performance Hall in the Covington Center. A joint show featuring visual art-works by students in the humanities and visual and performing arts programs was held on July 19 in the Porterfield Gallery. Showcase sessions across campus for parents capped the four-week school on July 20. 

Radford University is fulfilling its core mission of student empowerment and success through initiatives such as the Governor’s School; the 2019 Boys State Session, during which Radford welcomed more than 700 exemplary male high school students from across the Commonwealth; and the Summer Bridge program for aspiring female science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM students. At events such as the Governor's School, Boys State, Summer Bridge and throughout Radford's seven colleges, students discover their unique paths toward success and contribution to their communities across Virginia and beyond.

Jul 25, 2019
Don Bowman