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Lech Walesa will speak at BHSU

Lech Walesa, 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader who helped end Communist rule in Poland, will speak at Black Hills State University Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Donald E. Young Sports and Fitness Center gymnasium.

Walesa burst into the world spotlight in 1980 during the well-known Lenin shipyard strike in Gdansk, Poland. Workers, incensed by an increase in prices set by the Communist government, were demanding the right to organize free and independent trade unions.

On Aug. 14, 1980, Lech Walesa, an electrician who had long been active in the underground labor movement, arrived at the barricaded shipyard just as the dispirited workers were on the verge of abandoning their strike. Scaling the shipyard walls, he delivered a stirring speech from atop a bulldozer. Revitalized by his passion, the strike spread to factories across the nation. Christened "Solidarity," the strike became a social revolution. Walesa entered into negotiations with the government, convincing it to grant legal recognition to Solidarity and the right to form independent unions and to strike. This became the Gdansk Agreement, which Walesa signed on Aug. 31.

Over the next 18 months, however, relations between Solidarity and the government became progressively worse until Dec. 31, 1981, when the Polish government declared martial law. Walesa was arrested and spent a year in jail. Later, returning to his job and working with the Solidarity movement, he was able to lead his followers in victory over the Polish Communist party in 1989. In 1990 he became the first democratically elected president of Poland.

As president, he set Poland firmly on the path to becoming a free-market democracy. Through his unwavering commitment, Walesa made Poland a model of economic and political reform for the rest of Eastern Europe to follow and earned the honor of receiving one of the first invitations to join an expanded NATO. Retired from politics, he now heads the Lech Walesa Institute whose aim is to advance the ideals of democracy and free-market reform throughout Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.

Walesa is the tenth speaker in the Madeline A. Young Speaker Series to address a northern hills audience since its inception in 1987. The presentation is open to the public at no charge.

About the Madeline A. Young Distinguished Speaker Series

The Madeline A. Young Distinguished Speaker Series at Black Hills State University was established in 1986 by a $150,000 gift endowment from Madeline Young, a 1924 alumna. In 1990 her estate provided an additional $146,469 to fund the speaker series endowment.

Young, who acquired her teaching certificate at Spearfish Normal (later known as Black Hills State University), created an endowment for a prominent speakers program to benefit students, faculty, and citizens of the Black Hills area. The nature of selected speakers and topics are calculated to enhance and challenge the artistic, cultural, civic, educational or intellectual interests of the community.

Young was born in Gettysburg in 1903 and graduated from Faulkton High School in 1921 before embarking on a career as a teacher and a nurse. She completed her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1931 and a master's degree in rehabilitation at Columbia University in 1951.

During World War II she served as an Army nurse, receiving three battle stars during the battles of Normandy, Northern France, and the Rhineland. After the war she worked for the Veterans Administration in rehabilitation.

After receiving her master's degree, Young pursued a nursing career at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York. Her specialty was cancer nursing which she pursued until retiring in 1967.

The distinguished speaker series was initiated at the university April 13, 1987, with an address by former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. The most recent speaker was author and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin who spoke to a Black Hills audience in the fall of 1997.

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