“I think sharing your own personal experiences and stories is essential to modern education,” says Marc Laferriere, part owner of The Brant Advocate, Brant NDP MP Candidate of record, and recurring college and university guest speaker.

I have to agree. Personally, a university guest speaker is always an exciting experience for me. In high school, I may have had one or two people come occasionally, but no one really special ever spoke to my small town country school.

Because of this, I couldn’t help but wonder, what do guest speakers do for us? Are they a benefit or a detriment to learning? And how does a personal story or experience enliven the, sometimes boring, routine of read, lecture, evaluate, repeat?

“I can help students think about the broad democratic themes at stake in an election, but I can’t share with them the actual feelings of running as a candidate. A guest speaker can. I can show a documentary film, but students will only have the chance to ask the filmmaker questions about her approach and political viewpoint if I invite her into the classroom,” explains James Cairns, an assistant professor in the Contemporary Studies program.

Whether it’s Alex Neve, an Officer of the Order of Canada and the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, speaking to a Human Rights class about how he recently came back from a research mission in Côte d’Ivoire, Africa, or Rene Meshake an Ojibwe author, illustrator, musician, and visual artist explaining his life and work to students in the Indigenous People in a Contemporary World course, a guest speaker’s story can put students to sleep, or change a student’s life.

Laferriere believes this greatly, recalling how one of the greatest moments he’s ever experienced as a speaker, was when a student expressed to him in an email how Laferriere, “showed the importance of having a voice,” and how his talks made the same student, “ready now to speak.” How he, just by talking, could alter someone’s life, is perhaps one of the best things to come out of being a guest speaker. But the fact that he can do that to a student is perhaps one of the best things that can happen to an educational system.

Cairns believes that, “there is no substitute for hearing people talk about their own experiences, in their own words.”

First year Youth and Children student Chrissie Greig believes that when a guest speaker comes in, the classroom becomes more focused, organized, and personally she’s more attentive.

Law and Society student Maddi Bury believes that a guest speaker can give her a “different way of looking at a lesson, expanding the lesson a little more.” She also noticed people had “a lot more respect to the guest lecturer.”

However, sometimes guest speakers don’t add anything to a student’s experience in a course. Although this is a different view than the others, it is still relevant.

I can see some of this in my personal experience. Some guest speakers simply do not interest students with what they have to say. When the day is over however, I can still respect what they have done; travelled to my school or community, got in front of a large crowd, and exposed an aspect about themselves that could be rather personal.

Look at your syllabus. Today, a guest speaker is coming in. The choices mount already. Do you decide to go to class, or maybe skip it? After all, some teachers don’t even evaluate you on what guest speakers say. When you get to class, do you pay attention? Does what the speaker has to say interest you? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.

Maybe, it’s enough to change your views on something entirely. Maybe what a speaker has just shared about his or her life can be enough to change your life. Or, maybe they put you to sleep. I guess it all just depends.