THE FIFTH ABDELLA CENTER FOR ETHICS LECTURE · 2008
More Than 1,200 Hear Health Advocate's Talk
Dr. Paul E. Farmer, cofounder of Partners in Health, presented the fifth annual Abdella lecture before a capacity Coaches Pavilion crowd, more than 1,200, on Tuesday, May 13, 2008.
Partners in Health (www.pih.org) is a world health organization based in Boston but dedicated to providing health care, human rights, and dignity to some of the poorest places on Earth, including training indigenous peoples to care for themselves. PIH has implemented health systems that attack poverty as much as disease, to achieve lasting wellness.
Farmer’s captivating message and style of delivery extended farther than most had suspected: He remained in the lecture hall for over an hour after the lecture, engaging a multitude of Saint John’s students and alumni drawn to his humanitarian work and personal charisma. Farmer insisted on staying until he had spoken directly with the last person who wanted to do so. Only later was it learned that Farmer would be heading back to his patients and constituents in Haiti the following morning.
Delivering the Abdella lecture just two years after another capacity draw -- Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize -- Farmer drew a favorable comparison. In his welcoming remarks, Saint John’s faculty member Dave Wentzell noted the incredible value that comes from exposing students to great people:
“… How much wisdom can be reaped from studying and listening to an Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald?" asked Wentzell. "Likewise, how much inspiration and wisdom to be found in discovering and pondering the incredible work of a Dr. Paul Farmer … someone who has explored the far ends of the Earth and encountered 'the least of our brothers' in several of its forgotten corners? How much incredible value -- how much need -- is there for high school students to ponder the discrepancies and injustices that exist between or even within a given society? How worthy a task is it for people of all ages and all walks of life to at least consider the immense challenges to human rights, to human dignity, and to the human spirit that Dr. Farmer has experienced firsthand?"
A month before his scheduled lecture at Saint John’s, Farmer and his work in Rwanda were featured on the front page of The Boston Sunday Globe. And a week before the Abdella lecture, he was the focus of a “60 Minutes” episode and had lectured at M.I.T. and Harvard. Later, he gave the commencement address at Princeton University. As Headmaster Michael Welch quipped, those institutions can take pride in the company they are keeping.
Adapted from "Abdella Center for Ethics Welcomes Dr. Paul E. Farmer" in the Summer 2008 edition of Saint John's Quarterly.