ECU 2023-24 Voyages Series to feature actor, Olympic athlete

East Carolina University’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences Voyages of Discovery Series will feature an accomplished actor and an Olympic gymnast who will address the theme of inspiring hope and healing.

“The Voyages of Discovery series has long been a force for inviting conversation and learning about society’s most pressing issues. This season aims to inspire hope, healing and well-being in response to the 77% of college students experiencing moderate to severe psychological distress and the nearly quadruple increased rate of depression and anxiety among North Carolinians from 2019-21,” said Ashley Harzog, Harriot College director of alumni relations and outreach. “We are thrilled that these compelling, uplifting and timely speakers will bring us together to tackle these topics.”

In its 17th season, the series opens on Nov. 16 with “An Evening with Sean Astin,” actor, director, producer, and advocate for mental health awareness and civic engagement.

This year's speaker series will include actor, director, producer, and advocate Sean Astin and 2016 United States Olympic gold and silver medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez.

This year’s speaker series will include actor, director, producer, and advocate Sean Astin and 2016 United States Olympic gold and silver medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez. (Contributed photos courtesy of Keppler Speakers)

Astin is best known for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Goonies,” “Rudy” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” He directed and produced the short film “Kangaroo Court,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination, and “The Long and Short of It,” an entry in the Sundance Film Festival.

An avid long-distance runner and triathlete, Astin completed the IRONMAN World Championship held in Kaliua-Kona, Hawaii, in 2015, and he has completed 12 full marathons, including the 2016 New York City Marathon in honor of his late mother Patty Duke, for her life’s work as an advocate for mental health.

The Keppler Speakers agency writes, “Astin is a vocal advocate for literacy, mental health awareness, bipolar disorder and civic engagement. He is an energetic, passionate speaker who promotes a culture of volunteerism.”

On Jan. 18, ECU will welcome Laurie Hernandez, 2016 United States Olympic gold and silver medal-winning gymnast, who will discuss “I’ve Got This.”

Hernandez is a second-generation American — her grandparents are from Puerto Rico — and she is the first U.S.-born Latina to make the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team since 1984. She is an advocate for body positivity, resilience, teamwork and navigating high-pressure situations.

In 2017, she wrote her first book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” which made the New York Times Best Sellers list. In 2018, while serving as a literacy champion to promote readership as a path to leadership, she released a children’s picture book, “She’s Got This,” also a New York Times Best Seller. Later, Mattel created a Laurie Hernandez “Shero” Barbie in her honor.

The Keppler Speakers agency writes, “Between school and gymnastics, Hernandez travels the country speaking to the next generation about following their dreams. She is a fierce advocate for the importance of mental health and has partnered with multiple campaigns and initiatives to encourage awareness.”

Special-access receptions with guest speakers are held prior to each public Voyage presentation. Receptions and presentations are held in the Main Campus Student Center, Room 249 and the ballrooms, respectively. Tickets to the receptions and discussions are available online through the ECU Central Ticket Office, or by calling 252-328-4788 or toll free at 1-800-328-2787.

Each Voyages presentation is free for ECU faculty, staff and students (reception not included). Tickets are required. Visit the Voyages website for additional information and options for free access with an ECU1 Card or a free priority ticket.

All event dates, times and locations are subject to change. Individuals requesting accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act should call 252-737-1018 or email ada-coordinator@ecu.ecu at least 48 hours prior to the event.

The series is made possible through contributions from Harriot College’s Dean’s Advancement Council, university and community organizations, and many additional friends and supporters. For more information or to contribute, visit Support the Series.