KANSAS CITY, KAN. The KU chancellor helped raise enthusiasm for reading among students at the state's School for the Blind.
Students slowly warmed Tuesday to Kansas University Chancellor Robert Hemenway's reading of poetry by Robert Frost.
There was a little toe-tapping during his delivery of work by one-time Lawrence resident Langston Hughes, who enjoyed adapting rhythms of African-American music to his poems.
It wasn't until Hemenway turned to Theodor Geisel, creator of humorous fantasy stories under the pen name Dr. Seuss, that students at State School for the Blind really got into the reading jam session.
Hemenway's impersonation of the fish in "The Cat in the Hat" caught the kids hook, line and sinker.
"Thing Two and Thing One!" students familiar with the book shouted while the chancellor read.
Hemenway was celebrity guest Tuesday for the school's reading enrichment program. It was started by English teacher Craig Phillips, Tonganoxie. The objective is to raise appreciation among 60 students at the school for reading, whether it be big-print or Braille texts.
"Some read a lot," Phillips said. "Others don't, because it's so difficult. We want them to make reading an enjoyable experience."
Madeleine Burkindine, principal of the 128-year-old school, said literacy was an important skill for young people who looked forward to succeeding in regular schools and to performing well in the workplace.
"The unemployment rate for the blind is 70 percent," she said. "Literacy is the key to everything. Whatever your form of reading takes, you need those literary skills early in life."
Hemenway, who teaches an American literature course at KU, took questions from a group of older students after dispensing the wisdom of Frost and Hughes.
One person asked why he continued to teach undergraduates.
"If you like to teach, you don't want to leave the classroom just because you became chancellor," Hemenway said.
Another asked: What is a chancellor?
He said that as the university's chief executive his duty was to help articulate and communicate the aspirations of faculty, staff and students and a vision for the university.
In this case, he said, the hope was for the students around him to lead a more fulfilling life by reading more.
This wasn't the first encounter with Hemenway for student Maggie Boulton, 14, of Lawrence. Her dad, John, is professor of music and dance at KU. The family has visited the chancellor's campus residence.
Maggie, who likes mysteries and biographies, said Hemenway's message came through loud and clear.
"I think he did a wonderful job and was a good example for younger students who should work harder to read," she said.