A Bright Future for CofC Libraries
By Vincent Fraley
With the world focused on Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, nearly 200 guests in Charleston learned about the conflict from an insider’s perspective.
On April 4, the Friends of the Library welcomed Damon Wilson, president and CEO of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), as the featured speaker for the 2022 Winthrop Roundtable.
Wilson, whose career has been dedicated to promoting civil society in Ukraine and around the world, remarked on the bravery of everyday citizens against overwhelming odds.
Putin mistakenly believed, in Wilson’s view, that the war would be quick and easy, a simple case of “might makes right.” Instead, the Russian Federation’s autocratic president is mired in a struggle not against Ukraine’s army, but against the Ukrainian people.
“These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” said Wilson, a Charleston native and James Island High School graduate, of the resistance mounted by Ukrainian civilians and armed forces personnel.
Wilson, who spoke at the Mroz Global Leadership Institute’s Inaugural Convening, began in 1998 fostering professional and personal connections in Ukraine, affording him a unique perspective. His leadership of NED and previous positions put Wilson in contact with many individuals now on the front lines of the conflict. For him, this is not abstract foreign policy; three of his close friends have lost their lives after Ukraine’s sovereignty was violated in late February.
But NATO members and non-members alike uniting to condemn Putin’s actions and their pledges of support — financially, logistically, militarily — gives Wilson hope. Like his onetime colleague Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, he remains an “optimist, but worries a lot.”
President Andrew T. Hsu, Provost Suzanne Austin and Board of Trustees Chair David Hay joined CofC’s deans and students to learn about Wilson’s work and discuss his global outlook and Charleston’s place in it.
“You can tell a lot about a College from visiting its library, and you can observe much about a College’s community by the supporters of its libraries,” Provost Austin said, surveying the assembled crowd. “As I look out at everyone gathered here tonight, I know the future of our College Libraries is bright.”
Paused for two years during the pandemic, the Roundtable returned in style with a piano performance by CofC student Misha Pekar ’22, a seated dinner and Wilson’s keynote address at the Francis Marion Hotel’s Colonial Ballroom.
What began as an informal gathering of John and Libby Winthrop’s friends, the Roundtable now serves as the Friends of the Library’s signature event connecting the College Libraries’ supporters to luminaries near and far.
Past speakers of the Roundtable include journalists Dan Abrams and Cokie Roberts; diplomats John Kerry and Shashi Tharoor; business leaders Jeffrey Immelt, Martha Ingram and Darla Moore; as well as military experts Gen. William Westmoreland and Col. William Grimsley.
With Wilson as this year’s featured speaker, the Roundtable continues the gathering’s original vision of showcasing inspiring leaders and engaging audiences in invigorating discussions.
“The Roundtable has come a long way since its founding in 1996,” said Steve Osborne, former CofC interim president and current Friends of the Library board chair. “What has not changed is the Winthrops’ original vision for the Roundtable: creating a space for folks to gather, discuss and learn from one another.”
Reflecting on the insightful questions posed to Wilson by CofC students during the event’s Q&A, John Winthrop — a stalwart supporter of the College Libraries and initiatives across campus — shared Wilson’s optimism of the future.
After such a resounding success, what does he envision for the Roundtable going forward? With his recent planned gift to the Libraries, his answer was clear: “I want it to last forever.”