UW Students Eagerly Anticipate Meeting Mikhail Gorbachev

October 12, 2011
Hannah Olsen, a second B.S. degree student in civil engineering from Thermopolis, is among eight University of Wyoming students who will meet and dine with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev will speak at a free public event at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in the Arena-Auditorium. (UW Photo)

Hannah Olsen calls it the "most amazing thing that has ever happened to me" -- an opportunity to meet and dine with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Olsen, along with seven other University of Wyoming students and other invited guests, will meet President Gorbachev at a reception Friday, followed by dinner in the Wyoming Union. Gorbachev will give a free public talk, "Global Unrest and International Leadership in the 21st Century," at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in the Arena-Auditorium.

The eight students were selected for the invitation-only meet-and-greet with Gorbachev after UW students were encouraged to submit questions to be read at the end of Gorbachev's talk. A faculty committee selected the winning students' questions from a submitted list of more than 225 queries.

As time permits, former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson will read the students' questions, and they will be recognized during the program.

"I am incredibly excited that my question was selected and that I will have the opportunity to meet Mr. Gorbachev," says Olsen, who was born in Rock Springs, but graduated from Hot Springs County High School in Thermopolis in 2003. "I am also a little nervous about meeting such an important world leader who played such a big role in modern world history."

Olsen is seeking a second B.S. degree in civil engineering and also has B.S. and master's degrees in French. She says her selected question views the American occupation of Afghanistan in the same light as the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. She will ask: "Having previously directed a withdrawal from that country, do you have any advice that you could offer President Obama and the United States government on how they should handle the withdrawal, particularly where the Taliban is concerned?"

She says inviting Gorbachev on campus speaks volumes about the quality of education afforded UW students who have the opportunity to "listen to and learn from such a great leader."

"It also demonstrates how important the university is in connecting the state of Wyoming with the rest of the world and global politics," she adds. "I think the university should continue to invite dignitaries to speak on campus so future generations of students can have the opportunity to learn about and be engaged in the affairs of the world."

Gillette communications senior Justin Klein echoed those sentiments, saying that he feels fortunate to have the opportunity to hear and meet a renowned world leader such as Gorbachev in his home state.  He said his question for consideration was the only one he came up with.

"I was totally shocked when I learned that my question was selected," he says. His question that may be read is: "As a prominent world leader of the past 50 years, who do you believe is the most influential leader we have had in the last half a century?"

Braxton Beemer of Powell, who is taking a graduate course, "Cold War in International Perspective," says even though he did not submit a question, he will attend Gorbachev's talk.

"I definitely plan to attend Friday's event, because Gorbachev is an incredibly important figure in 20th century history," says the history graduate student. "Plus, the large field I'm working in for my thesis is Cold War history, so it wouldn't make sense to miss this."

Beemer adds inviting Gorbachev to speak helps increase UW's credibility as a major university in the United States and worldwide.

"Hearing important historical and contemporary figures is obviously important. If this university is going to be relevant and offer students a well-rounded look at the world on national and global scale, bringing in an array of public figures from different movements, countries, etc., is a necessary action for UW to take," he says.

Kevin Brown, a mechanical engineering senior from Denver, agrees that UW is headed in the right direction in providing students with an international experience.

"Having foreign dignitaries visit, at least from my perspective, definitely helps connect us to the rest of the world," he says.

Brown adds that he was surprised his question was selected and has the opportunity to personally meet with Gorbachev. His submitted question focused on the current Middle East revolutions, and if Gorbachev sees any parallels between those countries and his own experiences in the Soviet Union.

For details about Gorbachev's speech at UW Friday, visit https://www.uwyo.edu/news/2011/09/uw-provides-details-of-mikhail-gorbachevs-oct.-14-program.html .

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