Promotional material spread around campus throughout the week that advertised Thursday night’s stop on the University Lecture Series by Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield as “An Evening of Social Justice, Radical Business Philosophy and Free Ice Cream.” It was the latter part that pulled in the masses, proving that nothing draws a broke college crowd quite like the promise of free food.
Swarms of students lined up outside and inside the Special Events Center for tastes of Ben & Jerry’s signature flavors. Many of these students were back to the parking garage before Greenfield made an appearance.
This is not to say that Greenfield spoke to an empty arena. There were students who were drawn in by free food but decided to stay even after the ice cream was gone. “I came for a little bit of both,” said Gina Reich, a sophomore majoring in psychology, in regard to the ice cream and lecture combination. “Free ice cream is good, but I’m interested in Jerry and what he has to say.”
For those who came specifically to listen to the lecture, it seemed as though their intentions were beyond pure; most did not even take a free treat, but instead rushed directly to the best seats in the house.
“It’s a good opportunity to learn about small businesses and their experiences,” said Marty Salo, a local resident who brought his mother and sister along. “It’s something interesting to do. (Greenfield is) an interesting speaker, and free ice cream is always a good benefit,” said Salo, who admitted that he knew nothing about the free treat until he arrived on campus.
“It sounded interesting,” said Oksana Sidarovich, a junior studying urban development. “It’s something I don’t know a lot about and I thought I might learn something,” she said.
Business major Maria Yepes, a senior, was impelled by a sense of intrigue surrounding the man known as “Jerry” and what he represents in her field of study. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet a great businessman who became successful.”
The lecture sparked ideas in some of budding entrepreneurship. Lauren Risotto worked at a small ice cream shop in New York for four years. She drew comparisons between the modest beginnings of Ben & Jerry’s to her own former employer and was inspired by Greenfield to bring her roots to the Tampa area. “It is very popular. Maybe the same thing could happen here and then spread,” said Risotto, a sophomore public relations student. “Maybe this will give me the opportunity to learn how to do the same.”
Students who attended to learn about social responsibility in the business world were seen taking rapid notes about “redefining the bottom line” and applying a spiritual aspect to business. Greenfield, who is also vice chair of the board at Ben & Jerry’s, maintained that the company puts making a profit on the same priority level as helping their community. In many cases, this has meant the entire state of Vermont.
Growing from a modest beginning is certainly something Risotto can take from the history of Ben & Jerry’s, a company that was started with only $8,000 by “the two slowest, fattest kids in their seventh-grade gym class.”