Newton Inspires Shines a Light on Community Talent

What do cybersecurity, watercolor illustrations, college football, and the Big Bang Theory have in common? All were lecture topics at Newton Inspires, an annual celebration of lifelong learning put on by the Newton Schools Foundation (NSF) highlighting the intellect and talent of Newton community members.

The lectures were held in three sessions on Monday at Newton South High School. Newton residents who pre-registered for the event selected one lecture to attend per session, each of which lasted for 35 minutes. Around 500 people registered for the event, and walk-ins were welcome. Those who opted to walk-in were automatically enrolled in a lecture during each of the sessions. The event was free for all Newton residents.

According to Marcia Tabenken, president of the board of Newton Schools Foundation, the idea for Newton Inspires originated seven years ago as a means of uniting the community and bringing attention to some of its most accomplished residents. Board members Rosemarie Mullin and Julie Sall played key roles in its creation.

“There’s such an abundance of talent and creativity and intellect in Newton, and we wanted to highlight that in an event that brought the community together around learning,” Tabenken said.

Newton Inspires is one of the ways in which the NSF fulfills its purpose of supporting Newton public schools through fundraising. The money raised through corporate and individual sponsorship goes directly to the schools’ most innovative programs.

“There’s the financial impact of sponsorship, which has been to fund a variety of really cool programs in the schools … We’re really a fundraising organization just to support Newton public schools,” Tabenken said.

In the program, a letter from David Fleishman, superintendent of schools, listed a number of such programs funded by Newton Inspires. These include elementary school instrumental music enrichment, interdisciplinary high school coursework, programs to narrow the achievement gap, middle school peer leadership, and professional development in writing for kindergarten through eighth grade.

This was the second year Newton Inspires had sponsors, one of the only changes the event has undergone since its advent. This year’s primary sponsors were The Village Bank, Chestnut Hill Realty, Mark Development, and The Street Chestnut Hill.

All food and beverages were donated by local businesses, including Anna’s Taqueria, Blue Ribbon Barbeque, L’Aroma Cafe, and Peet’s Coffee and Tea.

According to Tabenken, the funds from sponsorship and donations act as additional money to promote educational excellence in the public schools.

“Innovative, creative programs that wouldn’t be possible within the confines of the Newton public schools operating budget,” Tabenken said.

Tabenken also emphasized that Newton Inspires is made unique by the fact that it is completely free and features multiple speakers with ties to the same community as attendees.

“[Newton Inspires] brings a lot of Newton talent together and it brings members of the community together … There aren’t a lot of free events in Newton that highlight Newton that are open to the community,” Tabenken said.

This year’s event had 16 speakers who gave lectures on a wide range of topics, but a typical year features closer to 20 speakers. Each year in preparation for Newton Inspires, the NSF sends past attendees a survey asking if they have suggestions for speakers. In addition to these responses, the NSF relies on newspaper articles, the radio, television, and social media to find other community members with interesting experiences, careers, or businesses.  

All speakers are connected to Newton in some way, either as Newton residents, graduates of Newton public schools, or proprietors of local businesses.

Lectures touched on topics of popular culture, medicine, finance, sports, art, law, science, and food. Featured speakers included Ty Burr, film critic for the Boston Globe; Giovanni G. Fazio, Ph.d., senior physicist at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and Hon. Judith A. Cowin, Justice (ret.) Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

As some of Newton’s most accomplished, these speakers shared experiences of personal trial and triumph, offered practical advice, and informed attendees of breakthroughs in their fields. At its core, Newton Inspires is a reminder that learning and curiosity need not end with adulthood.

Featured Image by Chloe McAllaster / Heights Staff