Actress inspires Appleton community to embrace diversity

Brianna Stapleton

Actress, comedian, and media personality Nancy Giles had the audience laughing and holding hands during her keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day service on Monday evening. A diverse cross-section of the Appleton community was represented at the event, held in the Memorial Chapel.

Lawrence students and faculty sat among families from Appleton, as well as some city officials, while Lawrence junior Sirgourney Tanner led everyone in a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The ceremony included award presentations to Nancy Heykes, who worked extensively to start the Appleton Multicultural Center, and to Dr. Thomas G. Scullen, the former superintendent of the Appleton School District. Young voices from the Appleton community were well-represented during the evening. The Appleton North High School Choir sang two inspiring pieces, while young writers from local schools read their award-winning essays as well. Each young author reflected on Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, and out of more than 300 entries four young women were selected as winners.

Student Annaliese Wilmsen’s essay was especially moving. The fifth grader from Jefferson Elementary School reminded all of us that it is important to do what we can to be peaceful and loving to those around us.

“It is hard to be loving when I come home from a bad day at school,” Wilmsen said, but then noted how she thinks of King’s message and is reminded to treat others as she wants to be treated.

The keynote address by Nancy Giles captured the positive, forward-thinking tone of the evening. Giles, who currently works as a radio talk-show host and CBS Sunday Morning contributor, said that she chose to address the issue of race with humor because she felt it would be fitting to the memory of King.

Among anecdotes from her time as a creative writing major at Oberlin College, Giles sprinkled words of wisdom throughout her presentation. “Hear different stories from different perspectives,” she told the audience. “I think that’s how we can really make change.”

Giles revealed interesting information about King’s life — for example, she shared that King had received not one but two C grades in public speaking on his report cards. She also read items from one of King’s to-do lists for his non-violent movement.

The final item on the list was, “Pray that we come out alive.”

Giles urged the audience to exercise their right to vote this year. She reminded the audience that King and many of his contemporaries died while fighting for the right to vote, so we should cherish our freedom to cast a ballot and vote out of respect for their efforts.

Giles’ message was uplifting and especially appropriate for the Wisconsin audience, with the February 19 primary approaching quickly.