Professor Hennessey’s “Classical” Education Effects Global Impact
On first glance, the fact that Professor William O. Hennessey is giving the keynote address at this weekend's Rhode Island Foreign Language Association's fall conference may seem a non sequitur. Why would a renowned professor of Intellectual Property Law, an expert in trademarks, be giving the central speech at a conference for high school teachers?
"I'll be speaking to the people in the trenches." he says. "Critical thinking in a global world requires the perspective of foreign language and culture. Foreign language teachers know their job is important, but they don't see results immediately. I want to encourage them to stay positive in the face of overwhelming odds. Students you may have now may not show any results until later. "
Hennessey knows of what he speaks. A graduate of Classical High School in Providence, Rhode Island, he left school with four years of Latin and three years of French on his transcript, but it wasn't until he was in the U.S. Navy and offered the opportunity to take the Foreign Language Aptitude Test (FLAT) that he began to see the link between his coursework and his lifework.
He attributes his high score on the FLAT to the rigor of the foreign language classes at Classical. "The test was based on a made-up language, but all the declensions were from Latin." His score led to Chinese language training in an era when China was not yet open to visitors, and a first career in Chinese language education and interpretating. Translation work with Chinese scientists and American policy makers led to an interest in Intellectual Property and a degree in law from Franklin Pierce Law Center, now the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
After graduation, Hennessey practiced law then returned to the Law School as the first Director of Graduate Programs and founded the China Intellectual Property Summer Institute that is now in its ninth year. The international reach of the school has expanded immensely in Hennessey's tenure; the school now boasts alumni from 83 nations.
"The nexus of language and culture is important to the global economy, " says Hennessey. He hopes to motivate his listeners to make learning a foreign language 'cool' because "it's important for Americans to think outside of the English straitjacket."
Hennessey has, himself, experienced the delayed gratification he will remind the high school teachers of on Saturday.
In August he spoke at the 4th Global Summit on HIV/AIDS in the Republic of Ghana. One evening, while dining with other conference guests, he happily learned that each had a professional association with at least one graduate of the Law School's Intellectual Property graduate program: one knew Helen Ziwu, LLM '03, of the Attorney General's Office, Ghana; another had association with Staffnurse Lesetedi, MIP '01, Registrar of Trademarks, Botswana; a third worked with Adebambo Adewopo, LLM '01, Registrar of Trademarks, Nigeria; and a fourth had ties to Adel Oweida, MIP '98, Supervisor of IT Department in the Egyptian Patent Office.
...it all started in the foreign language department of Classical High School in Providence, Rhode Island.