I was reading in the DUC when I looked up to see Dr. Neil Shulman heading in my direction.
He was putting his tray down at a vacant table when our eyes met. I smiled. I’d read the article in the Wheel about him: the Einstein-haired, goofy-looking professor perpetually dining at the DUC, meeting various students and discussing schemes that stretch their way across the globe. He’s the author of countless books, one of which was turned into a bestselling movie and a few of which I now have in my possession. Anxious to meet this man, I motioned him to my table and he took a seat.
Some may remember Shulman on the front page of an October edition of The Emory Wheel, where he holds a sign protesting the rape of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Part of his acute awareness of current events comes from his close connections with people. For example, he knows a lady on staff in the DUC whose relatives have been raped in the Congo.
His work toward medicare reform is in part influenced by another such staff member who was diagnosed with cancer, could not afford to treat it and was forced to wait until the cancer spread in order for the government to fund the treatment necessary to save her life. According to Georgia law, one must be both poor and disabled to receive government benefits. We talked about such things as he stabbed at his food, dropping his fork at one point. I explained to him about my own international background as he systematically cracked a pile of hard-boiled eggs, removed the yolks and ate them.
“You know,” he told me, “you might be interested in the Global Health and Humanitarian Summit.” It was something Shulman had helped start here at Emory only a few years ago. After some pushing, he was given space to host this summit for free and continues the annual tradition of inspiring others for bigger and better ways to serve their fellow man. It’s a place to mix ideas and get excited.
Shulman’s opinion is that after a man has fulfilled his basic and most necessary needs, he should cease to amass for himself and rather turn his attention to the less fortunate. The profligacy of the upper classes astounds and disgusts him and draws much scrutiny and criticism in his books, most notably The Corporate Kid.
Also on Shulman’s mind is the almost laughable and certainly near-useless attention bestowed on things as insignificant as a bad example in a speech. Wagner is obviously not a racist, says Shulman. He made a controversial move to hire a black provost when he first took office.
What, then, is all the hullaballoo? It is indeed interesting for me to see close to a hundred people march with signs into Woodruff Library to protest Wagner’s words when much larger problems exist.
Consider Atlanta, even, with a massive homeless and refugee population. All that protesting energy should really be funneled into more crucial change – is not feeding, clothing and sheltering the millions in desperate need of it more important than a possible case of racism, or perhaps a simple misunderstanding?
An hour after our meeting, I was standing in Shulman’s home, speaking with his wife Zoe. After making acquaintances with his young son and a visiting MIT professor (who wanted to bring the Humanitarian Summit to Boston), and a long exchange of ideas, I was dropped off in front of the champions’ residence, Longstreet-Means, my blood still stirring with the excitement of new prospects.
Somehow, I knew my next three years at Emory were to be much different than I’d previously imagined them.
Jonathan Warkentine is a College freshman from Almaty, Kazakhstan.