Witnessing President Obama Live on Counter-Terrorism

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016: A phenomenal day for select Honors Students at the University of Tampa. We had the distinct privilege of witnessing President Obama speak on counter terrorism at the MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa.


The buses left UT at noon, heading for the Base through Tampa’s average thunderstorm. Everyone was dressed in presentable business casual, excited to see President Obama in his last days as the Commander-in-Chief; an opportunity of a lifetime, granted exclusively to the Honors Students at UT. As we got off the buses, none of us imagined the experience that awaited us. We were to stand in a long queue to get through security, as Tampa’s average thunderstorm turned into Poseidon’s wrath and drenched us all. Even as we complained about our respective ruined attires, there was not a single person who was not laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. In hindsight, the drenching made the whole day that much more memorable.


When the rain stopped, and we made it through security at about 1345 hrs only to wait for the President to give his speech at 1600 hrs, most of us began to wonder if we could have done without the drenching. The feeling of impatience shrouded in damp clothes is not exactly the best combination on the planet. However, we made the best of the situation and took some terrible pictures, spotted soldiers in uniforms from different countries, and made conversation with some of them to find out where they were from. My friends and I talked to soldiers from France, Australia, Great Britain, and Italy, asked them questions about their home countries, families, and life in the USA. Yet another activity we could not have done without the opportunity offered by the Honors Program at UT.

At 1556 hrs, President Obama walked into the hangar with swift confidence, gave yet another one of his remarkable speeches, and humbly expressed, “it has been the privilege and honor of a lifetime to be your commander-in-chief,” before he waved and casually exited by parting the stage curtain. His incredible oratory skills were inspiring, asalways. President Obama’s words (and the following video captures him saying them), “Right makes might. Not the other way around,” are likely to resonate with us for a lifetime. Personally, I will never forget the joy I felt when he boldly stated, “Islam is not the problem. Us mistreating our own Muslims is exactly what terrorists want…the war on terrorism cannot be a war on Islam.”

As we got into the buses once again, discussing how moving President Obama’s words were, we saw his fleet of cars- leaving with their flashing lights- through the windshield. Despite the dampness of our clothes, and the discomfort of the (Florida) cold December wind, we are all immensely grateful to the UT Honors Program and Director Dr. Ryan Cragun for giving us the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the POTUS in person and in action.

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Honors Symposia – Chris Morash

Professor Chris Morash
Professor Chris Morash

Professor Chris Morash, the Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin, presented to Honors Program students on November 10th in Fletcher Lounge.  Professor Morash used Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney’s writings to discuss changes in Irish identity over the last several decades.  In particular, Professor Morash was interested in how Irish identity is losing its sense of place with the transition of the economy from agriculture to service and technology and the movement of people from rural areas to bigger cities.  Likewise, growing diversity in Ireland and globalization are leading to a declining sense of Irishness.  Professor Morash described this as a type of existential homelessness and explored some of the ways that Seamus Heaney had suggested we can cope with this transition of identity.

Members of UT Honors Council attend NCHC Conference – Seattle 2016

Honors Council President, Laura Hearst, and Social and PR Chair, Kamakshi Dadhwal, accompanied Honors Program Director, Dr. Ryan Cragun, on a trip to the 2016 National Collegiate Honors Council Conference in Seattle from October 12-16. NCHC provides a national collegiate platform for honors students and faculty members to present their respective research, brainstorm ideas for enhancing honors experience, and showcase artistic talents in master classes. We asked Dr. Cragun and the two students what they thought about the NCHC conference. Here’s what they told us.

Q. What did you think of the conference and the overall experience?

Dr. Cragun: As it was my first NCHC Conference, I found it very helpful. I’m in the process of re-thinking the entire Honors Program at The University of Tampa and hearing about other Honors Programs, their curricula, their activities, and their efforts to build a strong sense of community among their Honors Students was all really helpful. I learned a lot and came away with many ideas for how to make UT’s Honors Program even better.

Laura: I thought the conference was an overall wonderful experience that was eye opening to all of the opportunities honors student have and can take advantage of.

Kamakshi: The  NCHC conference opened the door to a whole new world of Honors, which I didn’t realise existed until I was immersed in the various sessions ranging from how to improve your Honors Program experience for first-year students to how to make the most of your Honors Program as a senior. Besides, who wouldn’t like to spend time getting to know professors, from all over the United States and abroad, outside of the classroom?

Sunshine in Seattle?


Q. What did you gain from the conference?

Dr. Cragun: I met and had a chance to talk with about half a dozen other Honors Program Directors. Speaking with those individuals about their programs and getting their thoughts on the Honors Program at UT was very helpful.  All of them were very nice and I’m sure moving forward they will all be willing to provide helpful feedback when I need it. The professional connections I developed will, no doubt, prove to be invaluable in the future.
Laura: I learned a lot about how to improve the Honors Council and make a difference at UT.
Kamakshi: Although the conference was more geared towards faculty, it served us well to attend it because we have come back with wonderful ideas- some our own, but most of them courtesy of the various presenters at the conference- to make UT’s Honors Council events more inclusive of students from various disciplines.
Q. What was the best part of the trip for you?
Dr. Cragun: The best part of the conference for me was hanging out with the two Honors Program students from UT. Traveling with students provides a great opportunity to get to know students on a deeper level. I learned a lot about both of the students and gained an appreciation for just how great UT Honors Program students are. Of course, what I loved the most is that I learned about some of the quirks of the students, too, like the fact that Laura won’t step on grates on sidewalks (even if it means getting wet in the rain) and Kamakshi is an Indian princess who flashes gang signs. Awesome!
Laura ate a fruit she didn’t know, on Dr. Cragun’s impish advice.
Laura: My favorite part of the trip was seeing the first Starbucks store in the world. [Laura and Kamakshi ran in the cold rain and harsh wind to make it to Starbucks 9 minutes before it closed on their last night in Seattle; just in time to get themselves “First Starbucks Store” mugs.]
First Starbucks Ever!
Kamakshi: The chance to visit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was my favourite part. The Gates family is inspirational in their intelligent altruism, which not only funds countless projects that help alleviate global crises in many domains, but also sponsors research to find definitive solutions specifically to worldwide health problems. They’re currently working on injecting infected mosquitoes with a bacteria, Wolbachia, in an attempt to find a cure to Zika. Just knowing that they care to put their abundance of wealth into improving health, reaffirmed my faith in humanity. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Cragun and Laura’s company. I had expected to get to know them better, but I hadn’t expected them to find a place in my heart, as friends.
Gates Foundation with actual FALL in the background!