Speakers from 2018 GRIT and the American Character

William J. Bennett is one of America’s most important, influential, and respected voices on cultural, political, and education issues. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bill Bennett studied philosophy at Williams College (B.A.) and the University of Texas (Ph.D.) and earned a law degree (J.D.) from Harvard.  At present, he serves as Chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education and is a Senior Advisor to Istation, an education technology company principally serving rural America.

Over the course of his professional life, in education, government and the private sector, Dr. Bennett has succeeded in a trifecta of American institutions. He is an award-winning professor in academia, having taught at Boston University, the University of Texas and Harvard; he is a three-time confirmed executive in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations including holding two cabinet-level positions, Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan and the Nation’s first Drug Czar under the first President Bush. He was formerly the host of Morning in America, one of the largest national talk shows in the country, and is now host of The Bill Bennett Show podcast. He is an official Fox News contributor appearing weekly on some of the nation’s highest-rated cable TV shows.  He is also an experienced technology entrepreneur, having been the founding Chairman of K12.com a multi-billion dollar online education company.

In his various roles, Dr. Bennett is perceived—even by his adversaries—as a man of strong, reasoned convictions who speaks candidly, eloquently, and honestly about some of the most important issues of our time.

Dr. Bennett has written or co-authored more than 25 books including two New York Times number one best-sellers, one of them being the Book of Virtues, one of the most successful books of the 1990s. His last book, Tried By Fire: The Story of Christianity’s First Thousand Years, also quickly became a best-seller. His three-volume set of the history of the United States entitled America: The Last Best Hope, has been widely praised and adopted for use in schools around the country. The Sunday New York Times previously named Dr. Bennett the “leading spokesman of the Traditional Values wing of the Republican Party.” Although he is a well-known Republican, Dr. Bennett often has crossed party lines in order to pursue important common purposes.

Thanks to his government positions, his writings and speeches, and thousands of media appearances, William Bennett has extraordinary influence on America’s political and social landscape. In many surveys and publications, he has been named one of the most influential individuals in America. He is the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees.

Nancy K. Crevier is the editor of The Newtown Bee, the weekly hometown newspaper of Newtown, Conn., a position she has held since 2016. Prior to this, she was employed at the paper as a reporter for 11 years, covering features, business, health, and other news. She has lived in Newtown since 1995, where she and her husband, Philip, raised two children.  Life experiences and observations of life in Newtown have allowed her many opportunities over the past 23 years.

Photo By Brian Tietz

Ryan Glynn is a Financial Planner and one of the founding partners of Blue Chip Financial of Southwest Florida. Ryan is originally from Portsmouth, VA and grew up in the Hampton Roads area. He is a proud graduate of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), where he achieved his Bachelor’s in Business/Economics in 1996. Prior to his career in the financial services industry, Ryan played professional baseball for 15 years. He has spent time playing at the major league level with the Texas Rangers (1999-2001), Toronto Blue Jays (2004), Oakland Athletics (2005), and in Japan before retiring in 2009.

James Hatch never imagined himself standing on a stage giving speeches. For 24 years, his job had been something very different. He was a member of the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, a master parachutist, an expert military dog trainer, and handler, and was involved in 150 missions across Iraq, Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan. From the age of 18, he had found a purpose and a family in the military, working and fighting alongside his crew.

Then in July 2009, a bullet shattered his femur while his team was on a mission attempting to rescue Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl from the grips of the Taliban. Adapting to civilian life presented considerable challenges. Seemingly deprived of his purpose, Hatch struggled with alcoholism, depression, and suicidal thoughts, wrestling with the lasting effects of trauma even as his physical health improved. He thought about the members of his crew who had put their lives at risk to save him; he thought about the military dog who was killed during the mission, and he felt like he had gone from being an asset to being a liability. During the fight to save not only his leg but his mind as well, Hatch discovered how the powerful support of a team—like his unit in the military—could also manifest itself in civilian life. With the help of the chain of his support team, he began to adapt to his new circumstances and was ultimately able to build his life back up in the face of his challenges by giving back to others.

These days his mission is helping dogs and trying to help people by telling them his story.  His raw and honest style of speaking has made a difference in the lives of military veterans struggling with PTSD as well as civilians. “I realized that you don’t have to be a commando to suffer severe trauma. Life is combat. For most of us. We go from conflict to conflict, with most of the conflicts occurring inside of us.” He is determined to assault the stigma associated with mental illness and empower those who are struggling to reach out to their own support networks and ask for help.

To help working K9s and to honor the memory of the dogs who fought and died by his side on the battlefield, he founded Spike’s K9 Fund to equip working K9s with top-quality bulletproof vests. Anderson Cooper featured Hatch’s work in CNN’s Champions for Change series. Hatch is also publishing a memoir, Touching the Dragon: And Other Techniques for Surviving Life’s Wars, that shares everything from his lowest points of shame to moving moments of reinvention.

Milana L. Hogan, Ed.D. serves as a liaison to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession and she is the Co-Chair of the ABA’s Grit Project.  Dr. Hogan recently published her first book, Grit, The Secret to Advancement, on the impact of grit and growth mindset on the success of women lawyers.

Pat Llodra is the former First Selectman of Newtown, CT. She has lengthy experience in both the public and private sectors, both locally and statewide. As a professional educator, she was a teacher and a principal and later worked for the Connecticut Department of Education. She served on Newtown’s Board of Education in the late ‘70s and was elected to Newtown’s Legislative Council in 2005 then was elected First Selectman in 2009, serving until 2017.

Will attended the Virginia Military Institute on a baseball scholarship where he played all four years.  He graduated in 2002 and went on to complete Officer Candidate School (OCS) in 2003 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army. Will then completed Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School, and Airborne School before being assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia.  He deployed to Iraq twice and also earned his Green Beret. While deployed in Afghanistan, an IED caused him to become a double amputee.  He had three and a half years of medical treatment and rehabilitation. Today Will Lyles lives in The Woodlands, Texas with his wife and children.  He is a graduate of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business and is currently working as a Senior Commercial Analyst with Enterprise Products Partners.

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, the recipient of the 2015 National Civil Rights Museum Freedom Award, is a Civil Rights Icon who participated in over 50 sit-ins and demonstrations by the time she was 23 years old. She was a Freedom Rider, a participant in the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-in, the March on Washington, the Meredith March and the Selma to Montgomery March.

For her actions, she was disowned by her family, attacked, shot at, cursed at, put on death row and hunted down by the Klan for execution. Her path has crossed with some of the biggest names in the Civil Rights Movement: Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, John Lewis, Diane Nash and Julian Bond.

As a white southern woman, her courage and fortitude in the Movement is highly regarded and recognized. Joan has appeared in several books including Coming of Age in Mississippi, Breach of Peace, We Shall Not Be Moved, and the new illustrated children’s books about her life, She Stood For Freedom. She has appeared on television and news programs like the CBS Nightly News. And her story and experiences were highlighted award-winning documentaries including An Ordinary Hero, PBS’s Freedom Riders, Standing on My Sister’s Shoulders and the groundbreaking film Eyes on the Prize.

She has received numerous awards and recognition for her work in the Civil Rights Movement. Most recently she received the 2018 I Am a Man Award on the 50th Anniversary of King’s assassination. In 2014 Joan and other female Freedom Riders were recognized by President Barack Obama. Joan has also received the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated Annual Award of Honor and the Anti-Defamation League Annual Heroes Against Hate Award.

Elise Reed graduated VMI in 2015 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering with distinction and military honors. During her time at VMI, she competed in NCAA Swimming and Water Polo. In addition, she was the first female Regimental Executive Officer during the 2014 – 2015 academic year. Upon graduation, she commissioned in the U.S. Army Reserves and became a Military Police Officer.  She was deployed overseas with the 354 Movement Control Battalion as the Battle Captain and earned the Meritorious Service Medal. Currently, she is an Army Reservist and owns a Martial Arts school in New Jersey.

Clinton Romesha is a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant noted for his heroic actions during the Battle of Kamdesh, a key moment during the War in Afghanistan.  On October 3, 2009, Sergeant Romesha took quick and selfless action while under aggressive fire from the Taliban. Despite taking shrapnel wounds to his neck, shoulders, and arms, he carried out a counterattack that not only eliminated Taliban machine guns but allowed for wounded soldiers to be taken to an aid station. Throughout the 12-hour battle, Romesha told himself he was merely doing what any soldier would have done for his comrades; everyone else, however, saw him as a hero.

Romesha’s valor and humility have been widely celebrated. In 2013, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama, making him the fourth living recipient of the honor for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same year, he was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes. Since receiving these accolades, Romesha has carried his Medal of Honor with him wherever he goes – not out of pride, but as a constant reminder that within every single person lies the same qualities responsible for Romesha’s own heroic actions.

His 2016 memoir, Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor, was immediately recognized as an instant classic. It is not only admired for providing a clear-eyed account of one of the most crucial battles in recent military history, but also as a powerful account of how one person, committed to doing the right thing, can make a bigger difference than they ever imagined.

Retired Lieutenant General Carl A. Strock retired in 2014 as a Principal Vice President of the Bechtel Corporation.  During seven years with Bechtel he was as a Project Director, General Manager for Civil Infrastructure, and President of Bechtel Construction Operations, Inc.

Prior to joining Bechtel he served in the Army for over 36 years, culminating as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chief of Engineers.  In that capacity, he led a 35,000-person command responsible for execution of a $32B international engineering and construction program.  Other command assignments include special forces operational detachment; a mechanized infantry rifle company; an airborne engineer battalion; a mechanized engineer brigade; and two Corps of Engineers divisions, Pacific Ocean and Northwestern.  His principal staff assignments were as Senior Tactics Instructor in the British Royal School of Military Engineering; Personnel Officer on the Army Staff; Chief of Staff of the Army’s Engineer School; Director of Military Programs and Director of Civil Works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and Deputy Director of Operations for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

His decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal (2), the Legion of Merit (2), and the Bronze Star Medal (2).  During his service, he earned the expert infantryman, master parachutist, special operations diver, and pathfinder badges, Special Forces and Ranger tabs, and the Army Staff Identification Badge.  He has combat campaign credit for participation in Operations Urgent Fury in Grenada, Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia, Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.

He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute, a Master of Civil Engineering degree from Mississippi State University and registration a Professional Engineer.  He is currently serving on the Board of Visitors of the Virginia Military Institute.

Kathryn ThompsonKathryn Thompson is co-founder and executive director of the Southside Transformation Opportunities for Residents and Youth (STORY).  She has a B.S. degree in Public Relations from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Kathryn has worked on behalf of public housing residents in Petersburg and Hopewell since 2009.  She was the Resident Services Coordinator for the Petersburg housing authority and Resident Services Manager and Grant Writer for the Hopewell housing authority.  She developed resident services programs for both agencies, secured community partners and worked tirelessly on community relations efforts.

She is currently writing her first novel through a class at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond and is passionate about bringing creative and cultural arts opportunities to at-risk youth.  She is an alum of the Emerging Nonprofit Leaders program and completed a 120-hour nonprofit management certification program through the Nonprofit Learning Point.  She hopes STORY will be an organization that serves economically disadvantaged persons in the Southside region for many years to come.

Monsignor Robert Weiss is the pastor of Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Parish in Newtown, CT, where he has served for nearly 20 years. The parish includes a pre-K through 8th-grade school.  Monsignor Weiss is a member of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Coalition. He received his Doctor of Ministry from the Jesuit School of Theology and is the recipient of numerous awards for leadership and community service.

Below are the speaker bios of those who contributed to our conference programming in 2018. We select speakers whose experience, expertise, or views help our audience understand the topics and challenge our views or preconceived ideas.