Dance Company performance at Tustin Blackbox Theatre prior to China trip.

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My name is Michelle Wirkus and, in following what Ashley said, I too want to thank all of you, on behalf of Bucknell, for the honor to be in the company of such wonderful people.

I live half a world away from where we now stand. We, in this room, are culturally so different and yet that is a good thing because we are so humanly alike.

I was raised in the small town in the Northeastern U.S. Like Ashley, I went to study at Bucknell for academic reasons. I am a bio-chemistry major with a career goal of medical research. My minors at Bucknell are neural psychology and dance.

I started dancing when I was three years old, but stopped in high school because I was busy with athletics – soccer, track, and lacrosse. When I went to Bucknell, I once again found dance and my passion was rekindled.

Even though Bucknell is a small University, its dance program has an amazing international scope – both from the various backgrounds of the student performers and definitely from the global wealth of experience our two professors provide our company. Both have danced professionally. Both have studied and taught at outstanding universities.

Professor Kelly Knox has a dance background that has spanned from the U.S. to Turkey.

Professor Er-dong Hu received his bachelor’s degree and was on the faculty for eight years at the Beijing Dance Academy. He has been at Bucknell for 12 years.

Because he is from China, I want to tell you a little bit about what it is like studying and learning from Er-dong Hu. While his resume is powerful, he is an extraordinary teacher and what I admire most about him is his undeniable passion for dance. He loves the beauty of dance, no matter what the student’s technique. Truly, a five-year-old could walk onto our practice stage, a child who had never before even pointed a toe, and if she did this, Er-dong would say "Beautiful, gorgeous." He loves what he does. He is more than a teacher. He is an inspiration.

As is Professor Knox.

One of the great things about studying where I do is that we certainly learn western dance – ballet, jazz, tap, modern, conditioning and aesthetics. But, also, we learn such things as Chinese folk dance, T’ai Chi, and Chinese Water Sleeves. We are better dancers for the experience.

And, by the way, for our concert, we have brought a variety of pieces in range and styles to capture various human conditions — from grief and loss to joy and celebration. Some are playful kinesthetic explorations. One piece is a reaction to the American tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.

We also have learned and will perform a Chinese piece that gives an appreciation for beauty and delicacy, a sense of strength and complexity, an incredible attention to detail and the interconnection of movement.

The tap piece we will perform gives us a chance to share with you what is inherently a part of our American culture.

One of the things I most love about dancing – particularly with other dancers on the stage – is the blend of choreography. When we dance, we are one in movement, one in spirit.

It is just as the world should be.

Most of us are young. All we want is a successful and happy future. But there are many obstacles, many complex and frustrating barriers.

One such hurdle that all people of the world may soon be facing together is the looming battle against "global warming." If the day comes, and it may be here surprisingly soon, we will need to band together, not as nations or cultures, but as people of the world.

If the journey is so dangerous, then where do we begin? What can we possibly do to ensure peace, trust, and comfort? What can we do to secure a world that will be comfortable to the lives of our children and their children?

I think a young woman from Nigeria – Hafsat Abiola – has that answer:

"Peace comes from being able to contribute the best that we have," she says, "and all that we are, toward creating a world that supports everyone. But it is also securing the space for others to contribute the best that they have and all that they are."

If our part, here today at this festival, is to say, "We like each other, we enjoy each other’s company, we appreciate what each of us brings to the stage. And, yes, we believe we can perform together." Even if it is all we can say, it is a powerful step.

Peace can no longer just be between nations. It must be an unbreakable bond between peoples like the bond we establish today.

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