On elephants and almond butter
But the evening held lighter moments, too.
When asked what motivates the Nobel Peace Prize winner to help both his local and global communities, Carter smiled wryly and first quipped, “I generally try to do what my wife tells me to do.”
He went on to describe the importance of their spiritual lives — he’s a deacon who teaches Sunday School twice a month at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. As president, Carter said he “tried to do what I thought was best for other people, one of those was to promote human rights, the other was to keep peace” — something anyone can aspire to within their own communities.
The best advice he ever received came from a high school superintendent: “We must accommodate changing times, but cling to principles that never change.” The worst was when he was urged to respond to the Iran hostage crisis with bombs, which he refused to do, out of concern that it would lead to the deaths of the U.S. hostages and Iranian citizens.
When asked what book changed his life, he described reading the Bible together with Rosalynn every night. “That keeps our marriage together for 73 years,” he said, adding that he’s a big fan of Patrick O’Brian novels, too.
When asked by a 6-year-old named Eleanor what his favorite African animal was, given his many travels with The Carter Center, he gently acknowledged that Eleanor was his wife’s first name, too.
“Do you have a favorite animal?” he asked. “A cheetah,” she answered.
Carter smiled. “I really think an elephant is my favorite,” he told her, except when “they transfer to be a symbol of American politics.”
“But I don’t guess you can consider donkeys an African animal,” he added, smiling.
His final question of the evening went straight to his Georgia heritage: “As a peanut farmer, what are your thoughts on almond butter?”
“I never have tasted it — and I don’t intend to,” he deadpanned. “We only have peanut butter in our house.”
Carter left the podium to a thundering standing ovation, then students began streaming out of the venue, carried along in a swell of conversation.
“It was cool to hear a former president’s perspective on current politics,” said Lia Rubel, a first-year Emory College student from Barre, Vermont. “I especially appreciated his thoughts on human rights. The humanitarian crises around the world is a topic that is not discussed as much as it should be. He had a very interesting presidency because of all the issues going on at the time. It gives him an interesting perspective on today’s politics.”
Josh Beskind, a first-year Emory College student, thought the chance to hear Carter “was fantastic,” he said. “He was a very engaging speaker, who could also be hilarious. Just a really great experience.”
For Carolina Gustafson, a PhD student from West Hartford, Connecticut, studying nursing at the Laney Graduate School, hearing Carter answer a question she had submitted was “probably the best moment of my year.”
“I’ve always admired President Carter tremendously and wanted to know what had been the most important advice he valued, how he was guided by the advice he received,” she said.
“To have him look at me and answer it felt very one-on-one, like he genuinely wanted to answer and reflect on it.”
ABOUT THIS STORY: Written by Kimber Williams and Leigh DeLozier. Photos by Kay Hinton and Parth Moody. Video by Corey Broman-Fulks and Damon Meharg.