The 2008 International Achievement Summit took place far from the media centers of the mainland, on the idyllic beaches of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. One hundred and twenty-five outstanding graduate students, drawn from 25 countries, gathered in the tropical gardens of the Four Seasons Hualalai to meet with an impressive assembly of the world's great thinkers in the sciences, literature, government and public service. Meeting for formal sessions in the resort's spacious ballroom, and for casual discussions in open-air dining rooms overlooking the sea, Academy members and student delegates enjoyed a relaxed atmosphere, one that facilitated a free-wheeling exchange of ideas, transcending conventional boundaries between academic disciplines, nationalities and political factions.
Among the distinguished members of the Academy, old and new, attending this year's Summit were the President of the Republic of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and three recipients of the Nobel Prize: the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa, a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace; economist A. Michael Spence; and chemist Peter C. Agre. Three Academy members who have led great American cities attended the Summit: the Mayor of Chicago, the Honorable Richard M. Daley; the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa; and the former Mayor of San Francisco, the Honorable Willie L. Brown, Jr. Former NATO commander and one-time presidential candidate General Wesley K. Clark appeared, as did consumer advocate and current presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and the Honorable William S. Sessions, former Director of the FBI.
Distinguished journalists in attendance included Sam Donaldson, Chris Matthews, Kathleen Matthews, Naomi Klein and two recipients of the Pulitzer Prize: war correspondent Rick Atkinson and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. The men of letters in attendance included more Pulitzer Prize recipients: author Frank McCourt, poet W.S. Merwin and biographer A. Scott Berg. Other noted authors in attendance included the distinguished scholar of Chinese history Jonathan D. Spence of Yale University, and the author of The English Patient, novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje. The Afghan-American author of The Kite Runner, Dr. Khaled Hosseini, was one of the year's honorees, as was the explorer and humanitarian Greg Mortenson, author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.
Among the renowned musical artists inducted into the Academy this year were the legendary songwriter and producer Brian Wilson, the young violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, and the world's leading dramatic soprano, Deborah Voigt. Other luminaries from the arts and entertainment included country music star and bestselling author Naomi Judd; Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator George Lucas, acclaimed cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and actress Sally Field, both recipients of multiple Oscars for their work in motion pictures. The world of sports was admirably represented by basketball legend Bill Russell.
Representatives of the business community included Michael S. Dell, founder of Dell Computers; financier Kenneth E. Griffin, Chairman of the Citadel Group; Stanley Zax, Chairman of Zenith Insurance; and Margery Kraus, CEO of APCO Worldwide. An especially remarkable group of eminent scientists attended the Summit, including Dr. Susan Hockfield, the President of MIT; the Director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni; the retiring Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research, Dr. Francis S. Collins; the Director of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Steven Rosenberg; theoretical physicist Lisa Randall; the renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin S. Carson and pioneering geneticists James A. Thomson, Shinya Yamanaka and Svante Pääbo. The distinguished marine biologist Sylvia Earle was joined by another undersea explorer, National Geographic photographer David Doubilet. Other distinguished honorees in attendance included America's most celebrated defense attorney, Barry Scheck, and the country's most prominent labor leader, SEIU President Andy Stern.
The Host of the 2008 International Achievement Summit was Catherine B. Reynolds, Chairman and CEO of the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation. This year's Summit was made possible by a generous grant from The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.
The week's program began on Wednesday night with a torch-lit luau in the Hoku Theatre, an open-air amphitheater hewn from the island's black volcanic rock. While feasting on tropical delicacies, the student delegates and Academy members were serenaded with Hawaiian music and treated to a performance of traditional kahiko hula dance. After hearing welcoming remarks from Host Chairman Catherine B. Reynolds and an inspiring address from neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson, the evening ended on a dramatic note with a traditional fire dance, performed by a dozen young Hawaiian men, expertly juggling lit torches from all corners of the amphitheater.
The formal program kicked off Thursday morning in the Hualalai Ballroom with an address by financier Kenneth E. Griffin of the Citadel Group. Sometimes portrayed in the press as reserved and introverted, Griffin proved to be a dynamic and charismatic speaker, eager to relate his experiences as a young entrepreneur. He engaged in a lively question-and-answer session with the Academy's student delegates, and delayed his planned departure to participate in further discussion with the Academy's students.
The celebrated undersea explorer Sylvia Earle gave an impassioned speech, warning of the effects of human activity on the marine ecosystem. The photographer David Doubilet followed with a breathtaking presentation of his brilliantly colored images of the world beneath the waves. Congressman Edward Markey then joined the two explorers for an intense discussion of environmental issues with the student delegates.
Legendary country singer Naomi Judd gave an extremely moving account of her early struggles as a teenage single mother, fighting her way from welfare to ultimate success in the music industry. She was followed by Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man, who took his own impoverished childhood and long years spent teaching in the New York City public school system as the starting point for a delightfully digressive series of reflections on -- among other things -- the value of digression itself. The morning's program ended with a stirring presentation by the great American poet W.S. Merwin, long a resident of Hawaii, who exhorted the student delegates to pursue their individual aspirations without fear of the collective judgments of society.
After a leisurely luncheon by the sea, student delegates and Academy members returned to the Hualalai Ballroom for an in-depth presentation by Michael S. Dell, who recounted how he founded Dell Computers as a freshman at the University of Texas. From the remarks of this visionary entrepreneur, the discussion moved to the often troubled relationship between government and business. Two noted critics of corporate power, Ralph Nader and author Naomi Klein, joined in a heated debate with financier Kenneth Griffin, a passionate advocates for the rights of business. The exchange of ideas was intense and uninhibited as the student delegates forced both sides to defend their positions in detail.
The afternoon ended with an individual presentation by A. Scott Berg, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of aviator Charles Lindbergh. Berg recalled the inspiring lives he has chronicled in his work, including those of motion picture pioneer Samuel Goldwyn and President Woodrow Wilson. He recalled Lindbergh's love of Hawaii, and his dedication to the preservation of the islands' environment.
In the evening, student delegates and Academy members enjoyed another dinner under the stars, followed by spine-tingling performances from violin virtuoso Joshua Bell and opera star Deborah Voigt. Far from the stereotype of classical musicians and opera singers as temperamental or aloof, both Bell and Voigt proved to be highly personable, approachable participants in the Summit's activities, as well as being consummate musical artists. Later that evening, the assembly migrated to the beach, where clear skies, a trained astronomer, and a powerful telescope afforded the Summit participants an exceptional view of the stars and planets.
Thursday morning began with a presentation by Professor Jonathan Spence of Yale University, a delightfully urbane speaker who charmed the audience with an account of the course that led him from his youth and education in Great Britain to teaching Chinese history in the United States. His research has resulted in a series of bestselling books and made him a sought-after lecturer in China as well as the West. He was followed by Professor Lisa Randall of Harvard, who first attended the Academy of Achievement as a teenage student delegate in 1980. She returned this year as an honoree, giving an inventive visual presentation of her fascinating theory of hidden dimensions. Randall's conjecture, now being tested by NASA and the European Center for Nuclear Research, may provide the long-sought explanation of the relationship of gravity to the other fundamental forces. Randall was followed by another distinguished scientist, the neurologist Susan Hockfield, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The first panel discussion of the day addressed the challenges facing the modern city. The panel featured Mayors Richard M. Daley of Chicago and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, as well as former Mayor Willie L. Brown, Jr. of San Francisco. The three mayors were joined by a distinguished educator and public servant, Professor David R. Gergen, former adviser to four U.S Presidents and now Director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof made an individual presentation, recounting his travels through the world's conflict zones, and his difficult effort to free two young women from slavery in Cambodia. Defense attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project detailed his long struggle to establish standards for the admission of DNA evidence in American courts. To date, Scheck's efforts have secured the release of over 200 men wrongly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. The Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo made a fascinating presentation of his work, comparing the genomes of the human being and the chimpanzee. He also gave a thrilling preview of his current project, sequencing the genome of a forerunner of modern humans, using DNA retrieved from the remains of a 42,000-year-old Neanderthal man. The afternoon session ended with a captivating address from an authentic American hero, basketball great Bill Russell. The Hall of Famer -- captain and later coach of the Boston Celtics during their unsurpassed reign as national champions -- spoke less of his accomplishments on the basketball court than of his achievements as a father. The champion radiated integrity and a soft-spoken dignity, deeply touching the hearts of his long-time fans among Academy members, as well as those of the student delegates, many of them too young to recall his brilliance on the basketball court.
The afternoon session began with a thrilling exhibition of the artistry of cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. Scenes from Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and this year's blockbuster, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, gave an overview of the extraordinary range and power of Kaminski's work. Following his presentation, student delegates rushed to the microphones to ply him with questions about the techniques and inspirations behind his imagery, as well as the details of his working relationship with his frequent collaborator, Steven Spielberg.
From the onscreen action of Saving Private Ryan and Indiana Jones, the conversation turned to the real-life heroics of U.S. fighting men in wars past and present, in a talk with Rick Atkinson, recipient of four Pulitzer Prizes as journalist and historian. Atkinson touched on his experiences as a war correspondent in Iraq, as well as his multi-volume history of the European front in World War II. Journalist and author Naomi Klein, who had made a powerful impression in the panel discussion of business and government, returned for a solo address. The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, she outlined a provocative thesis of the relationship of emergency situations -- wars and natural disasters -- to the privatization of public assets in countries around the world. A writer of another kind spoke next -- poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, author of the international bestseller The English Patient, among other works. Born in Sri Lanka, and now a citizen of Canada, Ondaatje has taught at a number of universities in the United States, including the University of Hawaii.
Next to take the stage was the actress Sally Field, recipient of two Best Actress Oscars for her performances in Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. Field spoke at length of her long struggle to establish herself as a serious dramatic actress after winning early fame in television comedies, and of the values of honesty and self-knowledge the discipline of acting has brought to the rest of her life. She was followed by filmmaker George Lucas, fresh from the success of his summer blockbuster, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Lucas wrote the film's original story and served as Executive Producer, while direction and photography were supplied by his friends Steven Spielberg and 2008 honoree Janusz Kaminski. Lucas spoke of his early setbacks, trying to find his way as an outsider in Hollywood's studio system before finding success on his own terms.
The afternoon closed with an exciting panel discussion of the challenges facing modern Africa, led by veteran ABC News correspondent Sam Donaldson. The participants included: journalist Nicholas Kristof, who has reported extensively from Africa; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero of the struggle for racial equality and democracy in South Africa; and the President of Liberia, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Johnson Sirleaf, recently awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States, is the first woman to serve as the elected leader of an African nation. She won the presidency after a 25-year campaign to restore democracy in Liberia following a tragic era of dictatorship and civil strife. Dressed in the traditional Liberian manner, President Johnson Sirleaf won over the audience with the purity of her convictions, and with the down-to-earth pragmatism that has enabled her to act on them.
The day ended with a Fourth of July celebration on the beach -- a magnificent dinner followed by a surprise performance from Academy member Chuck Berry. The student delegates cheered with delight as the Father of Rock and Roll mounted the seaside stage, placed for the occasion on a gleaming white sand dune, framed by a beautiful Hawaiian sunset. Still vigorous and mischievous in his 80s, Berry tore his way through some of his signature hits, "Roll Over Beethoven," "Round and Round," and "Rock and Roll Music." Academy members and student delegates soon crowded the illuminated dance floor, twisting and twirling to the original rock classics, played by the man who wrote them and first made them famous. Rolling Stone magazine has recently named Berry's tune "Johnny B. Goode" the "Greatest Guitar Song of All Time." When Berry and the band ripped into this number, the crowd overflowed onto the stage, and the bandstand was soon jammed with gleeful dancers. Just as the song reached a furiously rocking climax, spectacular fireworks erupted over the sea, lighting the sky with brilliant colors. When Chuck Berry finally left the stage, to a well-deserved ovation, the patriotic strains of John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" filled the air, and a marching line, led by Frank McCourt and Sally Field, jubilantly circled the stage. For visitors to the United States, the occasion provided an incomparable insight into the irrepressible American spirit; for U.S. citizens, it was as glorious a Fourth of July as one could ever hope to see.
The final morning of the Summit opened with a fascinating presentation by the Nobel Prize economist A. Michael Spence, an engaging speaker who expertly illustrated his remarks on developing countries and the global economy with a series of vivid charts and diagrams. The author of the international bestseller The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, reflected on the journey that led him from his homeland of Afghanistan to exile in the United States, through the process of learning a new language in his teens and becoming a doctor and an author. Another view of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the challenges facing Central Asia came from Greg Mortenson, author of the acclaimed book Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson has led a personal campaign to build schools in the remotest reaches of these troubled countries. He has made it his special concern to educate girls in these deeply traditional societies. Educating women, he asserts, is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty, war and terror that afflicts the region. With slides and video, Mortenson made a powerful impression on the audience, bringing many to tears with his account of the sacrifices made by those who seek to educate women in the Pashtun highlands, and of the ferocity with which the Taliban resists progress for women.
The first panel discussion of Saturday's session focused on the genetic revolution. Award-winning journalist Kathleen Matthews moderated a panel of the world's leading authorities on the subject: Dr. Francis S. Collins, who led the successful effort to sequence the human genome; James A. Thomson, one of the first scientists to successfully culture human stem cells; Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who recently succeeded in reverting adult human skin cells to their stem cell state; and Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Director of the National Institutes of Health; as well as neurosurgeon Benjamin S. Carson.
The final panel discussion of the 2008 Summit addressed the upcoming presidential election in the United States. The excitement in the room was palpable as the participants assembled for this conversation. The host of MSNBC's Hardball, veteran political journalist Chris Matthews, quickly opened the floor to the student delegates, who eagerly questioned a panel of experienced political players: labor leader Andy Stern, the President of Service Employees International Union; Willie Brown, the former Mayor of San Francisco, and for 15 years the Speaker of the California State Assembly; Wesley Clark, a former presidential candidate himself; Mayor Richard M. Daley, an enthusiastic supporter of Chicago's favorite son, Barack Obama; Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, a longtime supporter of Hillary Clinton; and independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The student delegates' questions evoked spirited responses from all participants, and the morning session ended with the entire crowd eager to continue the discussion.
The final afternoon session provided a perfect opportunity for in-depth consideration of topics introduced earlier in the Summit. After a relaxed luncheon by the sea, the student delegates convened in the breezy dining areas of the Hualalai Grille for informal group discussion with Academy members. Seated around small tables in different areas of the restaurant, intimate groups of students and Academy members plumbed a host of subjects. At one table, the President of Liberia and Archbishop Tutu discussed the universal struggle for social justice. The genetic scientists reconvened at another to continue their conversation with a number of the Academy's medical students. Dr. A. Michael Spence and Naomi Klein considered the possibility of a global economic crisis in one corner, while George Lucas and Janusz Kaminski discussed the art of film and the responsibility of the artist in an era of global culture. Greg Mortenson and Khaled Hosseini explored the future of Afghanistan, while General Wesley Clark added his insights into the military situation there and in Iraq. On the veranda, W.S. Merwin, Michael Ondaatje and Jonathan Spence discussed literature and history with another group of students, while another table considered the future of science education, and Bill Russell, Naomi Judd and a host of other Academy members met with smaller groups in between. Over the course of the afternoon, participants saw the mission of the Academy of Achievement realized in full: the leaders of today's world immersed in deep, thoughtful exchange with the leaders of tomorrow.
The International Achievement Summit culminated with the 47th annual Banquet of the Golden Plate, in which this year's honorees were inducted by Academy members in a brief, dignified ceremony. One of the Academy's student delegates, country music sensation Taylor Swift, performed with her band, singing a number of the songs she wrote for her debut album. The platinum-selling CD, consisting entirely of her own compositions, had topped the country music charts since the beginning of the year. Graciously thanking the Academy and the Summit Host for the experience of the International Achievement Summit, Miss Swift, still in her teens, wowed the audience with her sharp lyrics and passionate singing. But another musical performance still lay in store.
Earlier in the evening, Brian Wilson, the songwriting genius behind the Beach Boys, was inducted into the Academy with the rest of the honorees. After dinner, he returned to the stage with a six-piece band. As the guitars sounded the first notes of his classic summer anthem "California Girls," the crowd rushed to the dance floor, and honorees, Academy members and student delegates danced deliriously to Wilson's timeless songs of youth and summer. One after the other, Wilson and the band rolled out the memorable tunes: "Surfin' USA," " God Only Knows" and "I Get Around." "Help Me Rhonda" and "Good Vibrations" had the crowd in a happy frenzy, with many Academy members gleefully mouthing the words to songs they had danced to when they were as young as Taylor Swift. Statesmen, academics, scientists and men of letters all joined in the dance party.
At the end of the set, Brian Wilson introduced a final song -- in tribute to his musical hero Chuck Berry -- his own version of "Johnny B. Goode." After that, the band left the stage, but the ovation that rang through the hall soon brought them back. Brian Wilson and the band immediately kicked into "Fun, Fun, Fun," a classic hymn to carefree youth that carries with it a dawning awareness of adult responsibility lying just around the corner. The song was the perfect finale for an unforgettable week, one in which issues of the greatest seriousness had been discussed in an easygoing, relaxed setting, an atmosphere that freed participants from their preconceptions and fostered an open-minded approach to the world's problems. If the Academy's student delegates can carry the spirit of the International Achievement Summit back to their home countries, and into their future careers, we can truly look forward to a better world for all.
See Student Letters for the observations and reflections of the Academy's student delegates on their experience.
Student delegates from 25 countries gather in Kailua-Kona for the 2008 International Achievement Summit.
Maggie Daley, ABC newsman Sam Donaldson, Catherine B. Reynolds, the Rev. Desmond Tutu, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nicholas Kristof at the International Achievement Summit.
Poet and Hawaii resident W.S. Merwin meets novelist Michael Ondaatje at the 2008 International Achievement Summit.
Author Frank McCourt, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Angela's Ashes, casts his spell over the Academy's delegates.
The President of MIT, Dr. Susan Hockfield, shares her views at the International Achievement Summit.
Dr. Francis S. Collins discusses the revolution in genetics at the Summit.
Dr. Sylvia Earle shares her amazing images of creatures in the deep ocean.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley congratulates financier Kenneth Griffin on his induction into the Academy.
David Doubilet presents a breathtaking example of underwater photography.
Michael S. Dell, founder of Dell Inc., shares the secrets of his success.
Classical violinist Joshua Bell dazzles the crowd at the Academy Summit.
Opera star Deborah Voigt sings at the Academy's open-air concert in Hawaii.
Basketball great Bill Russell meets three Mayors: Willie Brown of San Francisco; Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles; and Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago.
New York Times columnist and correspondent Nicholas Kristof recounts his global adventures.
The distinguished cinematographer Janusz Kaminski shares secrets of his craft with Academy student delegates.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Rick Atkinson discusses the real-life experience of men at war.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg of the National Cancer Institute with Sally Field at the 2008 International Achievement Summit.
George Lucas discusses film and society with Academy students.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu enjoys a light moment with journalist Nicholas Kristof during their panel discussion.
Academy member Chuck Berry rocks the Fourth of July celebration in Hawaii.
The Academy celebrates the Fourth of July with fireworks on the beach.
Humanitarian Greg Mortenson, author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea.
Dr. Shinya Yamanaka joins a panel discussion of the genetic revolution.
Chris Matthews and labor leader Andy Stern take student questions during a panel discussion of the 2008 election.
Desmond Tutu and other Academy members join student delegates for informal discussions at the Summit.
Neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson in informal discussion with students.
The Academy of Achievement's Class of 2008 gather before the Banquet.
Academy student delegate Taylor Swift performs some of her hit songs at the 2008 Banquet of the Golden Plate.
Academy honorees Greg Mortenson, Rick Atkinson and Khaled Hosseini, along with his wife Roya, at the 2008 Banquet of the Golden Plate in Hawaii.
Zenith Insurance Chairman and Academy Patron Stanley Zax joins Summit Host Catherine B. Reynolds at the 2008 Banquet of the Golden Plate.
Legendary songwriter Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys receives the Golden Plate award from actress Sally Field.