Notre Dame College Abrahamic Lecturer Informs Student, Local Efforts to Change World

A Notre Dame College keynote speaker imparted multiple ways for individuals to contribute to better local and global societies—but said the single most important element is effort.

The College’s Abrahamic Distinguished Lecturer for 2017, human rights activist John Prendergast, presented his “10 Building Blocks for Making a Difference in the World and in Your Neighborhood” to an audience of more than 600 students and community members in Regina Auditorium on the Notre Dame campus.

The founder of the Enough Project to end mass atrocities in Africa, Prendergast offered a dectet of ways each person can help transform communities, like pursue a dream, foster hope, work in teams, value innovation, keep the faith, inspire youth and take care of self. His outline for efficacy also included connecting through personal stories, linking to positive celebrity and joining with just social movements.

Choosing to make a difference

The published author, long-time mentor in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program and former director for African affairs of the White House National Security Council said his greatest tip for effecting change is one he did not even officially assign to his top 10 list—to attempt it.

“The first step to making a difference is choosing to try to make a difference,” he said. “You do not know what you can accomplish until you try.”

Prendergast has spent more than three decades working alongside people in Africa, among government officials and with other global emissaries to halt wars and genocide, aid refugees and those without access to education, assist people in drought and famine, fight corruption and terror and address additional rights violations. His service extends to numerous nations across the world’s poorest continent, from Burma, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic to Darfur, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia and Zimbabwe, among others.

Counting even failed attempts

With these many accomplishments, Prendergast said he has grown as much from the totality of his efforts—counting even failed attempts—than from specific affirmative results. He has published 10 books to raise awareness of and address other social injustices, but only one is a best seller. He has appeared in an advocate role in three feature films, but in only one, “The Good Lie” starring Reese Witherspoon, did his part make it past “the cutting room floor.”

He also has served as a Big Brother to 10 youth. Only five have lived. Five succumbed to street violence.

Prendergast also told the assembly he attended five different colleges before earning his undergraduate degree in urban studies from Temple University. He then went on to complete a master’s degree in international development from American University.

“Over 30 years I’ve tried a million different ways to make an impact. Sometimes I’ve succeeded. Sometimes I’ve failed. The key is in the trying and the learning that comes with it,” he said.

Lighting their imagination

In addition to his formal presentation, Prendergast met with members of the College’s campus ministry group prior to his lecture. After his address, he answered questions from the audience.

One student asked the speaker more specifically how to change the mindsets of those seemingly not interested in making a difference. Prendergast suggested rather than trying to alter who others are instead focus on “lighting their imagination.”

Another student asked what inner motivation spurred Prendergast to advocate for those less fortunate. The speaker said he was driven to become a “fighter” against injustice as a youth because of a “volatile” and “combative” relationship with his father, with whom he has since reconciled.

A third student in the assembly expressed an interest in traveling to teach in African schools and asked Prendergast for guidance. He commended her for the desire and suggested she start her efforts by contacting local volunteer agencies.

Before this impromptu conversation with the crowd, Prendergast concluded his hour-long formal address with a charge to all in the audience, which seemingly spurred these students’ queries.

“Now that you know you can make a difference in this world,” he said, “what more will you choose to do?”

November 2017

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or


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