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Famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, 84, addresses young women from Chicago Public Schools about conservation and women in science during a luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Jane Goodall says ‘good morning’ in chimpanzee before talk to CPS students

SHARE Jane Goodall says ‘good morning’ in chimpanzee before talk to CPS students
SHARE Jane Goodall says ‘good morning’ in chimpanzee before talk to CPS students

The one-time secretarial student and former waitress began her talk Tuesday with “good morning” — in chimpanzee.

A few decades ago, Jane Goodall was so petrified, she could barely breathe in front of an audience. Now, as one of the world’s best-known primatologists and conservationists, Goodall — who turned 84 this week — routinely starts her “little talks” with a full-throated and prolonged call: “Ooo-oo-oo-oo-OOO!”

It’s a quirky ice-breaker that delights her audience, just as it did Tuesday, for a group of female Chicago Public Schools students listening in awe to the diminutive scientist, her hair pulled back in its trademark silver pony tail.

Famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, 84, addresses young women from Chicago Public Schools about conservation and women in science during a luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, 84, addresses young women from Chicago Public Schools about conservation and women in science during a luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Many of the women, gathered at the Sheraton Grand Chicago in an event hosted by the Field Museum, are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. They listened to a woman recalling how people once laughed at a young English girl with a dream of studying animals in Africa.

“Except my mother, who said, ‘If you really want this thing, you’re going to have to work hard, take advantage of opportunity and never give up,'” Goodall explained in the quiet voice of woman who has spent a lifetime listening to the sounds of nature.

Goodall’s parents had money enough to send her to secretarial school, not university. And to pay for her first trip to Africa, where she would eventually become the world’s best-know expert on chimpanzee behavior, she took a waitressing job.

In 1960 at the age 26, with no degree but the confidence of the famed Kenyan anthropologist Louis Leakey, she set off from England for Africa, immersing herself in a Tanzanian forest to study chimp behavior. Her studies are considered groundbreaking. Goodall told the CPS students that she dealt with many frustrations in the early days — as the chimps, unaccustomed to a “white ape,” repeatedly ran from her.

“If you give up, you despise yourself forever. If you make a conscious choice to move from A to B, then you’ll be proud of yourself forever,” Goodall said.

Then, finally, in a “very seminal moment,” after failing to entice a chimp with a palm nut, “He very gently squeezed my fingers, which is how chimpanzees reassure each other. It was perfect communication in a language that surely predates our human words,” she said.

Famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, 84, poses for a photo with students from Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. Goodall addressed young women from Chicago Public Schools about conservation and women in science during a luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Chic

Famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall, 84, poses for a photo with students from Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy. Goodall addressed young women from Chicago Public Schools about conservation and women in science during a luncheon at the Sheraton Grand Chicago, Tuesday morning, April 3, 2018. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Goodall said she still travels some 300 days each year, giving lectures all over the world.

“I want to go on doing this as long as I can,” she said. “There are an awful lot of places I haven’t been that need this kind of message.”

Jada Jefferson, 18, who attends ITW David Speer Academy, said she felt “starstruck” listening to Goodall, but also at ease.

“I really felt like I knew her, even though I don’t know her,” Jefferson said. “The way she came into the room, and her presence, it just made me feel really comfortable. … I wasn’t expecting her to be so chill.”

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