Libertas Scholars Attend FreedomFest in Las Vegas

Returning from Freedom Fest '22

Six Providence Libertas Scholars braved the extreme Las Vegas heat in July to experience the 15th annual FreedomFest, and it was an eye-opening experience for each of them. Newly-minted graduate Davis Peterson (Class of 2022), senior Avala Elwood, and juniors Teleios Zermeno, Madison Schock, Abby Fiedkou, and Eliana Bordin, along with chaperones Bruce and Elaine Rottman, enjoyed the cool AC of the Mirage convention center—and a host of cool speakers.  

Arriving at Freedom Fest '22
Libertas Scholars with chaperone Elaine Rottman (left) arrive at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas for FreedomFest 2022

Here, Eliana Bordin provides her perspective on this gathering of more than 4,000 freedom lovers:

During my time at FreedomFest in Las Vegas I not only learned about various topics and issues by watching documentaries and listening to speakers, but I also got to spend time to discuss with Mr. and Mrs. Rottman and the other students who attended. We listened to thought-provoking speeches on medical breakthroughs, educational choice, economics (Abby and Madison were inspired to buy books on inflation), religion, cancel culture in comedy, and more. We also were inspired by impactful documentaries on Frederick Douglass, Roe v. Wade, the homelessness problem, and the Berlin Wall. We heard scientists and senators (Rand Paul and Mike Lee), congressmen and comics (John Cleese and Seth Dillon of the Christian satire site The Babylon Bee), businessmen, writers (Eric Metaxas), and film producers.

John Cleese at FreedomFest 2022
John Cleese speaks about freedom and creativity at FreedomFest 2022. His talk was a highlight for many of the Providence Libertas Scholars attending the event in Las Vegas.

Out of the documentaries we watched at the Anthem Film Festival which stood out most to our group was The Hong Konger. Before watching this documentary, I was not aware of the Chinese government’s oppression in Hong Kong, businessman Jimmy Lai’s inspirational and faith-inspired leadership influence there, and his brave activism in support of economic, political, and religious freedoms. The documentary was beautifully made and showed the transition from a vibrant and free Hong Kong to the decline that it is now facing under communist China, with the erosion of its developing democracy and its rule of law.  

One of the many sessions that intrigued me the most was by from Senegalese businesswoman Magatte Wade, who spoke on the causes of the poor economic state of Africa, and how it is on its way to becoming one of the most economically free places on Earth. 

When we were not in conference sessions, we continued to have insightful conversations on what we had learned that day, what we found most interesting, our opinions on various topics we had heard, and added our own previous knowledge of these topics to create great bases for different discussions like this.

Davis Peterson wins chess contest at FreedomFest '22
Mark Skousen (wearing a hat), FreedomFest founder and director, congratulates Davis Peterson, Class of 2022, for solving the daily chess challenge in the FreedomFest exhibit hall.

Libertas Scholars read books and articles outside the humanities curriculum throughout the year and hear speakers and attend summer seminars such as FreedomFest (which will be held in Memphis in 2023). This year’s FreedomFest highlighted the disturbing losses of freedom our world is facing. But it also inspired students to learn more about many different political and economic issues, and become both more informed and more courageous to advance freedom in America.

Bruce Rottman
Bruce Rottman

Bruce Rottman is the founding director of the Providence School Libertas Honors Scholars Program.

Libertas Goes to South Dakota

Libertas Scholars Blog | Bruce Rottman, Libertas Scholars Program Director

In the past several years, our country appears to be at an inflection point, with statist solutions to problems becoming more popular and more common. This July, ten Libertas Scholars from Providence spent four full days exploring these issues at FreedomFest in South Dakota. Graduates Christine Venzor and Olivia Bates, seniors Liza Coffin and Davis Peterson, juniors Avala Elwood, Emma Johnson, Ruby Kilpper, Jacklyn Pryko, and sophomores Teleios Zermeno and Eliana Bordin were chaperoned by Mr. and Mrs. Rottman for an intense and entertaining conference on the Western plains.

Students connect with Dr. Mark Skousen, FreedomFest Founder 

Libertas Scholars are required to attend a summer program, but COVID-19 made that impossible in 2020. This summer was a different story, allowing students to travel to Rapid City, where 2,700 “free minds” met “to celebrate great books, great ideas, and great thinkers.” There they were challenged by hundreds of options (presented in debates, talks, and films) and a variety of opinions. 

Students took full advantage of the many opportunities. 

— We heard Governor Noem of South Dakota and Senator Mike Lee of Utah

Governor Kirsti Noem introduces herself to the attendees
Senator Mike Lee (Utah) and his wife, Sharon, get a selfie with Liza

— Students were fascinated to learn how New Testament geography adds insights into what Jesus really said about justice and economics in a talk by Jerry Bowyer

— California gubernatorial candidate (and talk show host) Larry Elder inspired the attendees

Larry Elder rallies the crowd

— We saw several amazing documentaries at the simultaneous Anthem Film Festival

— Senior Davis Peterson served as one of 12 jurors on a Mock Trial on whether the pandemic lockdown was justified

— We heard insightful comments from economists Stephen Moore, Diedre McCloskey, and many others

— And we heard author Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s defense of America’s war on Islamic terrorism, countered by an equally cogent and  convincing counterpoint from scholar Scott Horton

— Some of us saw a hilariously raucous debate, “Boomer vs. Zoomer: Which Generation Is More Dangerous to Freedom?” (Conclusion: they both are equally dangerous)

—We bought books, visited booths in the large exhibit hall, and laughed with comedians

Olivia and talk show host Dave Rubin

— We explored historic downtown Rapid City, played mini-golf, and experienced a moving lighting ceremony at Mount Rushmore

Students experienced first hand the problem of tradeoffs (should we see an inspiring movie or hear a senator speak?), were tantalized by vendors’ treats, and competed in daily photo contests, trying to capture the best and oddest images from the Festival.

Checking out one of many statues in Rapid City upon our arrival at the airport

In addition to ten hours of learning each day and experiencing a civil exchange of ideas, students from different classes also enjoyed getting to know one another, which they missed out on during the past year of enforced cohorts, while exploring a different part of the country. 

But most of all, students gained an deeper appreciation for and understanding of the principles of freedom that have made our country a light on a hill. 

As Ruby wrote, “I was compelled by the consistent message of hope for America and progress towards a more free society.” Eliana added that she learned “new perspectives of the ideas we’ve learned about,” while Olivia noted how it was “healthy to talk across political divides.” Given how social media tends to move us into echo chambers, FreedomFest brought about “conversations with those who have different beliefs” and helped students “build up our own convictions as we participate in society today.” Liza noted that the broad range of ideas and speakers highlighted the “common values of freedom and individual rights that brought them all together;” like Olivia, she noted the “civil political discourse done with grace and respect” for other people’s values.

We trust that students will take these lessons into the upcoming school year, their college experiences, and their lives, and we are grateful for the generosity of Providence supporters, Robert and Margie Niehaus, who made it possible for our students to experience this enlightening and educational program.

Bruce Rottman
Bruce Rottman

Humanities, economics, and government teacher at Providence School; Libertas Scholars program director