Leonard and Marianne Rosen
Photo Credit: John Moss Photography
Over the years, students in Professor Richard Johannesen's popular "Contemporary Speakers and Speeches" course had come to expect the unexpected. A gifted orator himself, he was known not only for the depth of his knowledge about rhetorical theory and criticism, but also for the passion with which he imparted it. In fact, legend has it that he would leap atop his desk to emphasize a key point.
However, in the fall of 1980, Johannesen's class began unceremoniously as he stood in the front of the room holding a VHS tape. He dimmed the lights, popped in the tape, and told students they would be watching a recording of one of the most powerful speeches of all time: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream." As the speech played, senior Marianne Rosen was mesmerized, and her own dreams began to take shape that very afternoon. "As I listened to King's voice and studied his word choices, I suddenly realized what I was meant to do. I wanted to make sure I would have an opportunity to pass on the knowledge Dr. Johannesen had imparted to us all semester."
The observant senior took her gaze off the television screen as the film ended, and saw her professor wipe a tear from his eye in response to King's speech. "From that moment, in that class, I knew I was meant to be at NIU. I knew I wanted to study rhetoric and public address, and eventually teach communication," she recalls.
That realization, and the life of meaning and purpose it inspired, led Rosen and her husband Leonard to create a generous scholarship endowment to benefit current NIU students.
"Our hope is that each year we give a student the opportunity to get the life-changing and inspirational education we know Northern will provide," Rosen says. Their endowment will support students in Communication Studies. "We want to relieve some of the financial pressure so that students can relax and absorb all that the discipline has to offer," she explains.
For Rosen, the discipline offered a great deal. Recently retired from a successful 34-year teaching career, the names of NIU professors who influenced her still roll off her tongue like good friends who have never left her side. She speaks fondly of Dr. Barbara Bate, who taught her about gender and communication; Dr. M. Jack Parker, who helped her master the art of argumentation and fostered her love of coaching debate; and Drs. Charles Tucker and Art Doederlein, from whom she learned communication theory and film theory respectively.
Marianne (center) with her mentor, retired communications professor Dr. Lois Self (right) and Judy Santacaterina, Director of Bachelor of General Studies.
Of Rosen's most influential professors, two in particular stand out: communication ethics professor Richard Johannesen and Lois Self, who introduced Rosen to the study of rhetoric and social movements. "I cultivated a deep passion for both topics and even incorporated them into my own lessons each year I taught," Rosen explains. "But these two amazing educators also taught me about the key roles that enthusiasm, kindness, support, belief, and friendship play in our classrooms," she adds. "They not only taught me about subject matter, they taught me that I matter—that all voices matter. It is because of them I have always encouraged my students to explore how they can use their voices to work for social justice on behalf of marginalized groups."
Those important lessons stayed with Rosen throughout her academic and teaching career.
After graduating with her master's degree from NIU in 1983, she headed to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in rhetoric and public address. "I knew Dr. Self studied at Wisconsin. She taught me the importance of becoming a thoughtful and engaged citizen; she grabbed my heart each time I attended her classes. I was excited to delve deeper into social movement rhetoric under the guidance of the same professors she had at Wisconsin," Rosen explains.
Rosen began teaching in 1984, first as a faculty assistant at the U.W. and Edgewood College in Madison, then later as an Assistant Professor at Herzing College in Wisconsin. In 2007, she began teaching speech and debate at a private high school in Southern California and earned the "Diamond Coach" award from the National Speech and Debate Association. Her school's team (Chaminade Speech & Debate Society) placed first in their league and sixth in the state a few years after its inception. In June 2014, a member of her speech team took the national championship in the impromptu speaking category.
With more than 30 years of teaching and a national championship under her belt, Rosen retired in 2014.
Thirty years has passed between her NIU graduation and the day Rosen returned to campus to have lunch with Dr. Self. "I will never forget my experiences at Northern," she explains. "It was as if I woke up when I was a student here. I have so many memories of my time here, and I know that NIU is where I discovered who I was meant to be." As she strolled through Watson Hall with Dr. Self, Rosen noticed that some things had not changed. "The classrooms and offices felt so familiar, and Dr. Self is as brilliant and articulate as ever. I was thrilled to think of all the students who have had the opportunity to experience her life-changing classes throughout the years."
In order to ensure that future generations will continue to benefit from the kind of education and inspiration NIU offers, the Rosens' endowment will provide full tuition for students during their time at Northern. The Rosens have made sure their recipients have an interest in communications and social justice. Candidates will submit an essay addressing a hardship they have overcome, and how receiving a scholarship will help them become engaged, productive citizens of our global community who intend to work on behalf of the disenfranchised.
"Had it not been for professors Johannesen and Self, I would not have had the rewarding career and life that I've enjoyed," says Rosen.
For these experiences, Rosen has always been grateful. "Each day for the past 34 years, before I began my classes, I would pause for a moment and silently thank my mentors for introducing me to the field I love and for showing me that one voice can make a difference. I always kept a copy of Dr. Johannesen's book on "Contemporary American Speeches" on a shelf in my office where I could see it, and hoped I was carrying on his legacy in a way that would make him proud," Rosen admits.
"It all started with that life-changing moment in his class. Because Northern gave me direction, my hope is that this endowment will help other students find theirs," Rosen says.
Marianne and Leonard live in Southern California with their teenage daughter Annie, who is a member of her high school's speech and poetry performance team. Marianne has two adult children from her previous marriage: Molly, an academic advisor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and who lives in Sun Prairie with her wife Maggie, and Max, a chef who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana with his wife Nico.