Each Tate Lecture requires months of planning

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In a soft, yet subtly demanding voice, speaker Regis Philbin filled the air of McFarlin Auditorium. The lights naturally encouraged the eye to look past nothing but the man in the black suit. Although the podium, the microphone and the balcony’s reach from him only contributed to his distance from the audience, Philbin’s soft essence made his lecture Oct. 9, 2012 feel nothing more personal than a dinner table conversation with the media personality.

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Several years ago, President Turner welcomes Regis to his Tate Lecture, a longstanding tradition of SMU. Photo credit: Taken in 2012 by Sidney Hollingsworth

Since that date, speakers such as Sir Ken Robinson and Sarah Key, among others, have kept Philbin’s company in gracing the stage in SMU’s Tate Lecture Series.

“It is a series that brings thought-provoking and entertaining icons to the SMU campus and Dallas community,” said Brad Cheves, SMU vice president of development and external affairs.

Because of the series’ home, here, on the student-inhabited SMU campus, the series develops a character embodying the university itself.

“The Tate Series works closely with the SMU Student Foundation,” Cheves said.

A representative from Student Foundation is a part of the Tate Board of Directors. With student-involvement residing in the operational branch, the presence of students is simultaneously reflected in the audience; SMU students receive free entry.

Yet the series reflects more than just the students of SMU’s campus.

“A single lecture brings over 2,000 members of the university and Dallas communities to one of campus’ most historic buildings—McFarlin Auditorium,” said Jeff Lockhart, associate director for the Tate Lecture Series.

The Tate Series holds eight events each year, the 2015-2016 season its 34th season.

The series’ same theme of reaching beyond its immediate community is also embodied in its components; a lecture is more than just a lecture.

“Each Tate Lecture speaker participates in a Student Forum,” Lockhart said.

The forum is student-moderated, and available for faculty and staff, as well as area high school students.

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The photographer Platon addresses many at the the Student Forum before his 2014 Tate Lecture. Photo credit: SMU Photos

Beyond the series’ entertainment and discussion components reside a mission of financial responsibility.

“The Tate Lecture Series returns more than $800,000 back to SMU for academic scholarships and student programs,” said Cheves, with most of its funds comprising the President’s Scholars Program.

The Tate Series shines its brightest during its eight events each year, but this star is only possible because of the day-to-day procedures.

“The Tate Series is run by the office of Program Services, which is the special events team in Development and External Affairs,” Lockhart said. “Daily operation of the series includes coordinating the event logistics and managing the vendors associated with the Student Forum, President’s Dinner and Lecture.”

Most of the daily processes are dedicated to contacting speakers.

“The Tate staff spends approximately seven months securing speakers through different entities,” Cheves said.

Cheves said that speakers are selected on the basis of recommendations and are selected by reviewing ideas from fellow Board Members, the campus community and patrons.

“It is extremely important that a Tate Board member has heard a potential speaker speak, either personally or through other connections,” Cheves said.

Acquiring speakers for the series is not a one-way street.

“The Tate Series is one of the most prestigious [speaker series] in the country, and because of our long history, speakers are more than inclined to accept our offers to speak at the series,” Lockhart said.

Rob Lowe, Keith Alexander, Kevin Mandia, Fred Chang, James Carville and Karl Rove are the remaining speakers in the 2015-2016 season.

Their legacies, their predecessors and the series’ distinct audience are essential components to the Tate Lecture Series: a series distinctly SMU.

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