Follow The Flags: Convocation Remembered and Reborn

The late August sun beats down on Stern Lawn as the sound of bagpipes emerges from the wings of the audience. The procession continues with 102 flags representing the nations and territories from which the Colleges’ students and faculty hail and where they travel through off-campus programs. The scene is unequivocally that of Convocation, reintroduced to the HWS community by Gearan in the first years of his presidency. With pomp, circumstance and those 102 flags as a powerful reminder of the Colleges’ commitment to global citizenship, Convocation is a vibrant celebration marking the opening of the academic year.

The What
The ceremonial beginning of the academic year, Convocation hosts a distinguished speaker who offers reflections on the promise of the year ahead and encourages the community to reflect on core values of the Colleges. For many years a lecture series, Gearan returned the concept to its historical inception: a gathering that reflects the highest aspirations of a community, deriving from the Latin word convocare: “to call together.”

The Why
“Let us commit to building a community that fosters traditions and celebrates our achievements. In events such as this we are reminded of the ritual of academic beginnings and celebration of extraordinary commitment.” —President Mark D. Gearan, 2002

  • Congressman John R. Lewis (D-GA)
  • Dorothy Wickenden ’76, L.H.D. ’14, executive editor of The New Yorker
  • Trustee William F. Scandling ’49, LL.D. ’67, founder and president of the Saga Corporation
  • Judge Herbert J. Stern ’58, P’03, LL.D. ’74
  • Christopher McDonald ’77, L.H.D. ’13, Broadway stage, television and film actor
  • Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09, Chair of the Board of Trustees
  • Rosie Mauk, former director of AmeriCorps, 2005


“The action of Rosa Parks, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., inspired me to find a way to get in the way. I got in the way. I got in trouble. It was good trouble. It was necessary trouble. So I appeal to you as students, as freshmen with a sense of vigor, energy and vitality, to find a way to get in the way. Speak up, speak out and do not be quiet.” – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

“The true freedom provided by a liberal arts education is the freedom to open your mind. That means taking leaps of faith, being able to see the logic of an argument you profoundly disagree with, assimilating difficult, often unsettling ideas, and learning to think critically and act humanely.” – Dorothy Wickenden ’76, L.H.D. ’14

“And when you approach something new, something different, something out of your comfort zone… maybe your hands are sweating and your heart is racing – remember that you are not afraid, not worried about failure. You are excited about trying something new, following your passion, evolving and growing.” – Christopher McDonald ’77, L.H.D. ’13


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.