A day we won't forget

A day we won't forget

Sep 14
Leslie Sweet Myrick, Office of International Programs Media Communications Specialist

Last Thursday was a glorious day for the College of ACES, International Food Security at Illinois (IFSI), and the ACES Office of International Programs as we were deeply honored to host the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Students, faculty, staff, and other community members turned out in full force to listen to this distinguished guest – nearly 400 people attended and many more watched the livestream – and he in turn projected respect for each person in the room and admiration for the great work on food security being done here.

He warned us early on, “When I speak of what we’re doing [at USDA], you will be mentally checking off a list of the extraordinary work you are simultaneously doing” and recalling his morning tour of the energy farm, he said, “There’s not a citizen in this country who wouldn’t be impressed by what I walked through today.”

Vilsack’s speech was certainly informative, and I will elaborate on that in a longer article later, but it also was funny.  

After hitting multiple times in serious tones on the great issue of food waste in this country, he got a big laugh by grimacing over a memory of his wife’s leftover chicken salad and how the USDA FoodKeeper app calmed his fears about it being too old to eat.

Surprisingly to me, the lecture then turned conversational, inspirational, and even emotional.

Our office had been given a heads up that he loves Q&A and this was true. His assistant looked a bit annoyed, but not surprised, that he stayed at the podium well past his hour timeframe to take all the questions. He answered every question, even those that hit controversial topics, in a conversational tone and said that he is never afraid to say, “Yes, let’s talk about that.” and that unfortunately “Too often we don’t have conversations, we have debates.”

I expected to enjoy the lecture; I expected to learn a lot; I didn’t necessarily expect to be wiping away a tear towards the end when he admitted, even though he was adopted from an orphanage as a plump boy, that he had never known hunger. He then urged us all to think of the millions that do know hunger. He then spoke directly to the students in the room and said they have the opportunity and the responsibility to become the first generation to ensure food security in the U.S. and abroad.

By taking so many questions from student and others, he made his lecture a conversation. And I don’t doubt many a student was inspired today as a result; I know I was.