Leon Panetta, former CIA director and secretary of defense, will address whether America is in renaissance or decline during Launch! A celebration of the UCSC student experience featuring a dinner and exhibitions of student work.

The event will take place Friday, April 25 at the University Center at Colleges Nine and Ten with a strolling dinner and wine at 6 p.m. followed by the keynote address from Panetta.

During a recent phone conversation, Panetta, who represented the Central Coast in Congress for 16 years and later served as President Clinton's budget director and chief of staff, spoke of the dramatic changes that have taken place since he was in college. The pace was much slower when he was making his way through school. “The world was not running as fast," he said.

These days, young graduates are being set loose in a world in which jobs that previous generations took for granted are now long gone, he said, with Americans focusing squarely on new technologies and the global economy while confronting a whole new set of concerns, from climate change to global security issues.

Expect a lively evening with straight talk and some button-pushing topics.  When asked if he believes America is in renaissance or decline, Panetta said, "I really do believe we can be in an American renaissance. We do have that potential. But a lot of that depends on our ability to govern ourselves and make the changes that have to be made. Right now my fear is that we are losing the capacity to govern ourselves effectively."

“The global economy, and the challenges of global security, are changing dramatically,” Panetta continued. "What I worry about the most is that we’re not keeping up with that. As a matter of fact, a big part of the problem comes from Washington, and our ability to respond to these changes; it’s moving backward rather than forward.  At the present time the leadership in Washington almost looks like it has given up to even try to find solutions to those problems.”

Thriving in such a world will require a higher degree of innovation and creativity.

These days, he said, students now have access to a tremendous amount of technological information, but he stressed the importance of blending tech savvy with practical know-how and immersive "real-life" experiences. "That linkage is very important," he said.

Guests at Launch will see this kind of immersive learning in action during the dinner portion of the evening, where they will meet UCSC students and hear about their research projects ranging from medical breakthroughs to astronomical discoveries and the preservation of natural resources.

Among the participants will be students of associate professor of history Alan Christy, East Asian Studies director, and co-director for the Center for the Study of Pacific War Memories. Christy’s students will provide a sneak peek at the Gail Project, a unique public history project including a photographic exhibition that will travel the world, featuring the work of Charles Gail, an army dentist assigned to manage a hospital in Okinawa. The photographs in the Charles Gail Collection offer a remarkably candid glimpse of daily life in Okinawa during a time when U.S. military bases were expanding there.

Christy praised the photographic talents of Gail, father of Geri Gail, who teaches auditing courses for the UCSC economics department. Gail donated the photos, which were taken in 1952. Students worked hard to stage the exhibition, using their research to develop exhibition text and installations and help put together an oral history.

Tickets to the dinner, keynote address, and dessert reception are $150. Tickets for just the keynote and dessert reception are $50. Parking will be provided at Colleges Nine and Ten. Registration for this event is now available.