Gardner Educational Forum; Mussari:

What started out as a rainy, dreary day quickly turned to sunshine on the afternoon of April 7. Students and faculty members filed into Marts 214 and, as they sat down, they found a blank notecard on the desk in front of them.  Everyone quickly realized that they needed to use the card to write down an answer to the question projected on the screen.

What is success?

This was how Dr. Tony Mussari began his lecture for the Drs. Robert S. and Judith A. Gardner Educational Forum Series. This year was Mussari’s fifth year presenting at Wilkes in either classes or the lecture series.

The Educational Forum Series is a lecture series developed by the Garders that celebrates the teaching philosophy that not all learning takes place in the classroom. Mussari was invited to strengthen and support this philosophy with his lecture titled, “Rules of the Road to Success: Life Lessons from Experience.”

Since Mussari’s presentation was grounded in the importance of learning from experiences, he was asked to reflect on his life and the pivotal moments that worked to shape his views and outlook on the world.

Mussari, when asked about where he grew up, described himself as a “local boy,” as he is a graduate of St. Mary’s High School. For postsecondary education, Mussari attended King’s College where he majored in History and minored in Psychology. He received his MA in American History from Niagara University, his PhD in American History from the University of Iowa, and his EdD from Lehigh University.

In 1969, Mussari accepted a one-year visiting professorship at “a college down the street,” which turned out to be a 37-year long career. While teaching at King’s, Mussari and his wife, Kitch, started their own documentary film company.

The two produced numerous documentaries. Two notable ones Mussari addressed were the regional television program, Windsor Park Stories, and Face of America Journey, which they began in 2010.

Mussari said that his biggest accomplishment in the years he made documentaries was the ability to produce Windsor Park Stories with little to no finding for almost 11 years, as well as the film he and his wife made about 150th Anniversary of the awarding of the Medal of Honor at the Medal of Honor convention in Gettysburg. Mussari describes it as “one of the most difficult undertakings of my lifetime.”

When asked to describe his personal philosophy of teaching, part of it revolved around the ideas of experiential learning and making students accountable. What is most important, Mussari explained, is when “a teacher tells students what they need to know, not what they want to know.”

The most important educational experience of Mussari’s life came when he was a junior in high school and his teacher told him, “When I assign five pages, from now on, you will do 10.” His teacher saw potential in him, pushed him, and told him what he needed to hear.

When talking about this moment, Mussari said, “It changed my entire life because, from then on, I was willing to do the extra five pages.”

In addition to his achievements with documentaries, Mussari was asked to share what he believes have been his biggest accomplishments in life. In the realm of education, Mussari is most proud of his ability to take a fledgling program in mass communications and turn it into a very successful program.

What Mussari explained to be his biggest accomplishment in life was not something that many people would even consider. Most often, accomplishments are determined by success, but Mussari said that being able to deal with any crisis that comes along in life is what he has been most proud of. 

As the interview came to an end, Mussari was asked: If you could send a message to the world in 30 seconds, what would it be? First, Mussari recited a prayer that he says every night: “Lord let us find a pathway to peace in our communities, in our countries, and across the world.”

He then continued with his message stating, “We have to learn how to love one another and how to understand one another, especially those people who are different than we are. We have to find a way to stop the carnage that just draws all of our energy. We have to find a way to reach out to one another, across the divide, and appreciate our humanness, our potential, our fragileness, and our need to love. We need a new army of the kind.”