Binnaz and Zafer Toprak of Istanbul, Turkey, have contributed to St. Olaf's Term in the Middle East program and Global Semester since 1992. Every year, the Topraks meet the St. Olaf students at the airport, help them settle into life in Istanbul with a crash course in the Turkish language and give lectures on Turkish culture and history.
After a convocation by College Pastor Bruce Benson, Wendy Allen, professor of French, spoke about Binnaz Toprak, describing her passion for Turkish culture and her study of women in Turkey. Allen described the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when Binnaz Toprak came to the scared and confused St. Olaf students "as a friend to help us understand what was happening."
Allen, Director of International and Off-campus Studies Eric Lund and Professor of Political Science Sheri Breen draped Binnaz Toprak in her honorary hood. Binnaz Toprak then addressed the crowd, thanking the St. Olaf community for the honor.
"It's not every day I receive an honorary degree," she said.
She told the crowd that she enjoys watching St. Olaf students flourish in Turkey, watching them "enjoy and become part of city life." As she concluded her speech, she commended St. Olaf for offering travel abroad opportunities to fight xenophobia, which can run rampant in the world.
"Both Zafer and I take pride in teaching commonalities between the students and other civilizations," she said.
Edward Langerak, professor of philosophy, spoke about Zafer Toprak, commending him on his tireless work to provide educational opportunities for St. Olaf students. Langerak praised Zafer Toprak's encyclopedic knowledge of his country, joking that students are always "impressed with his ability to remember everything that ever happened in Turkey."
After Langerak's speech, Professor Emeritus of Economics William Carlson and Professor of Sociology Samiha Peterson draped him in his hood, Zafer Toprak spoke about the bond between St. Olaf and the Topraks.
After the initial connection was made between St. Olaf and the Topraks when they came to the University of Minnesota in 1992 for a sabbatical, the Topraks began to plan a curriculum for the Term in the Middle East students.
Zafer Toprak explained that while early lectures were based on Turkish and Middle Eastern culture, changing political and economic structures in the area demanded a change in the curriculum as well, with later lectures focusing on politics, sociology and economics.
He concluded his speech with a word of gratitude: "It is a great honor for both of us."
As the ceremony closed, Thomforde concluded, "I don't know if there is a vocation for international hospitality, but maybe we should name one."