"With all the media available to us today, it's become so easy to talk to ourselves, to miss out on a chance for dialogue," says Headliners discussion series regular Dr. Theodore Nagel. "The airwaves (and newspapers) are filled with people more or less shouting over each other, everything from Rush Limbaugh to the cast of "The View." It's nice to attend an event [like Headliners] where the audience can ask questions and experts can elucidate things in a true exchange of ideas."
In 2006, after seeing an advertisement for a new discussion series at the U of M, Nagel and his wife Judy decided to make a "date night" to go and hear stem cell expert Meri Firpo. The couple has been Headliners season ticket holders and regular attendees ever since.
"Our kids had all gone off to college by then," says Judy, "and we thought it sounded like a nice chance to be learning again ourselves. There are people doing amazing things at the U, and having a showcase like this is good for us and for them. It's a good way to get introduced to new and varied topics...and a way to show the public what is going on at the U."
That accessibility to the cutting-edge research being done at the University, as well as the breadth of topics covered, says Theodore, are two of the things that keep them coming back month after month. Although he and his wife come from a medical background (Theodore is one of the top reproductive medicine specialists in the Twin Cities; Judy is a former operating room nurse), their interest has been piqued by a wide range of subjects. "Prairie grass and biofuels, the roots of the Cold War, the Hmong spiritual world...the variety is great."
Aside from sparking good post-date-night conversation and further inquiry into discussion topics, the couple has even picked up a home repair tip or two. "We were so impressed by the Energy House/Solar Decathlon edition," Judy says with a smile, "when we bought new windows, we bought Marvin because of the things we learned in that presentation!"
"Every time we go," Theodore says, "we realize new things we didn't know we didn't know. I mean, even though I'm in the medical field, Larry Jacobs' presentation on the history of the health care system, who is responsible for what, what the background is, that sort of context...it was quite interesting to hear."
The lessons they learn often stay with them, the couple says, citing, for example, Mai Na Lee's 2009 presentation on Hmong grave desecration in Thailand. "The Hmong population in the Twin Cities is the largest in the country," says Judy, but their traditions and rituals and history remain a mystery to many. Lee's presentation, she says, "was so eye-opening, so moving. Gaining an understanding of what the mass exhumation of graves meant to their people, learning about their spirit world, and how it all fit into their culture. I carried so much away from that night. It was very touching, very emotional for me."
The couple also believes in exercising the body, as well as the mind. Avid bicyclists and outdoors people, they have toured Central Europe and Utah by bike, and kayak together frequently. And with interests that include travelling, photography, language-learning, music, theatre, and volunteering, the Nagels have plenty to do to keep them busy when Theodore retires from practicing medicine at the end of this year. But attending Headliners and other lifelong learning opportunities remains at the top of their "to-do" list.
Says Theodore, "You know, I feel like we have a responsibility to continue to educate ourselves throughout our lives. And there's a danger in becoming too narrow in our focus--only learning about what we know or hearing/reading what we want to hear. This way, we get a chance to hear questions and topics from a number of viewpoints, and to ask questions ourselves. It stimulates the mind, for sure. No doubt about it."