The young man in t-shirt and shorts spoke clearly and intelligently about “The Game of Life,” a cellular automation or mathematical simulation created by British mathematician John Conway in 1970.  On the screen behind him was a running example of the cells of the simulation replicating, dying and regenerating its own patterns in an endless loop.

Eric (Aaron) Meister is a student at New College of Florida, where highly gifted students with a streak of independence and free spirits are encouraged to achieve excellence by following their own passions to graduation. Eric is also a member of the first group of New College Student Fellows participating in a group independent study project that has challenged students to develop speaking and presentation skills commensurate with the critical thinking, critical reading and analytical skills they were developing in their coursework.

Standing before his first live audience of strangers, Eric connected with a number of Plymouth Harbor residents gathered that afternoon in Pilgrim Hall and he was not alone. With him this afternoon were several of his classmates who were also there to make their first presentations.

 Dr. John Gillette, Director of the New College Writing Center, has worked closely with the students during 4 weeks of intensive speech presentation training in both theory and practice as they practiced delivering speeches upon topics of their chosen discipline of study. Each one had the desire to learn how to communicate their work and interests in an effective way to future employers, future colleagues and to the public. Demi Brown presented the case for developing a better system of training doctors to offer pain management prescription that reduces the risk of pain killer addiction so rampant in Florida. Her presentation had the polish that she will need as a future policy maker and legislator. Anna Kresek told the story of the nearly lost Gnostic gospel of Thomas, while Nisha Hodge answered what killed the electric car. Keilar Durant, an aspiring addictions counselor, explored alcohol in the college culture and Brigit Csiki presented Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Katie Cottrell talked about nanotechnology and we learned that New College is one of the few undergraduate institutions equipped with an Optical Spectroscopy and Nano-Materials Lab.

When all the students had spoken, the Plymouth Harbor residents were quick to speak up themselves.  Obviously impressed by the presentations, several residents applauded their efforts and bravery. Bobbie Sanderson was the first to express her gratitude, but she pointed out specifically that their eye contact was excellent and their passion for their subjects came through perfectly.  Others offered constructive feedback on stage movement and use of the microphone, which is another very important aspect of the New College Student Fellows mission.

It seems very fitting that Plymouth Harbor was the first community presentation partner for the Fellows. Our residents have deep experience and clear understanding of what it takes to be successful in one’s life and career.  As resident Carl Denney pointed out, learning how to speak and present is a critical skill, no matter what your professional field or career.

The students will be back on campus giving their presentations in Pilgrim Hall on April 9.

It is certainly a partnership that would make the founder of Plymouth Harbor very happy. Before he made his dream of Plymouth Harbor a reality, Congregational minister Rev. Dr. John Whitney MacNeil, was instrumental in gaining the support of the national Congregational Church in 1960 to create New College.  The connection?  Whatever their stage in life, New College students and Plymouth Harbor residents are intelligent, curious and actively engaged.