Convocation 2009

Provost Teresa Amott
September 2, 2009

At colleges and universities across the country, the opening of the academic year is marked by the ceremony of Convocation. We gather on this glorious day on Stern Lawn, surrounded by buildings given by friends, alumni and alumnae grateful to the Colleges, buildings designed and constructed for learning: on my left, the Warren Hunting Smith Library with the Rosensweig Learning Commons, truly the academic center of campus. And behind me, Smith and Stern Halls, where academic departments and programs challenge our students in many areas of inquiry and where the deans of Hobart and William Smith keep the traditions of these Colleges alive for students of the twenty first century.

We welcome back the 139 Hobart and William Smith students from programs in 20 countries this past Spring, as well as the 50 HWS students who studied abroad in seven countries this summer. As we gather here today, 155 HWS students are attending global education programs in 22 countries around the world. We also take this moment to celebrate our two newest abroad programs located in Mendoza, Argentina, and Carmarthen, Wales. And we welcome the largest group of international students in the Colleges' history.

In celebration of these international connections, we are surrounded today by 87 flags, each one representing a nation of origin for a current student, staff or faculty member, or a country in which our students and faculty are studying abroad. A flag is a symbol of national pride. In the United States, we call it the Stars and Stripes and Old Glory. We treat it with reverence and protect it with laws and regulations. Each flag here, including the United States, represents a nation constructed out of a particular history, with boundaries carved by geography, or mapped by war and conquest, or drawn by force or greed. Each nation, including our own, has a history to be studied, to be critically examined. Each flag here symbolizes a national culture made up of one or many religions, dances, literatures, languages and songs. Each evokes a landscape: forests and deserts, flood plains and shores.

The beauty and splendor of these flags celebrates national sovereignty, history, and distinctiveness. But looking at the multiplicity of these flags, I am also reminded that this summer, on July 20th, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, when two members of the Apollo 11 mission walked on the moon. It has been estimated that half a billion people across the world watched that video broadcast of the moon landing, an astonishing figure at a time when few had access to television. (About twice as many, forty years later, watched the global tribute to Michael Jackson on hundreds of millions of screens large and small.)

The Apollo space missions created an extraordinary opportunity to see the planet from a perspective of millions of miles as singular. From the moon, there are not hundreds of countries. There are no national borders, no visas, no language barriers. Just one perfect sphere, breathtaking in its wholeness and its fragility. That is the challenge of global citizenship - we are each citizens of a nation, but we are also citizens of the planet. We must honor and delight in our differences, while we search for and embrace our common humanity.

On behalf of the HWS community, I thank you, Mr. Tighe, for your service to all the nations and peoples that make up this world. You know well the challenges posed by national differences and the imperative to rise above them. In your life's work, you have been a global citizen. So, too, is our next speaker, a faculty member whose wide-ranging courses include Multicultural Ethics, Environmental Ethics, the History of Philosophy, and Philosophy of Religion.

It is our tradition at HWS that the winner of the Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award speak at our Convocation ceremony. So on this day draped in celebration, it gives me great pleasure to introduce Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Carol Oberbrunner, who was honored by her faculty colleagues with the 2009 Hobart and William Smith Excellence in Teaching Award. Professor Oberbrunner joined the faculty in 1999, having earned a B.A. from Swarthmore College, her M.A.from the University of Michigan, and her Ph.D. from Syracuse University.

Here is what students say about her: "She is the most enthusiastic teacher and professor that I have ever had in my life," "with the unique ability to step into the student's mind," she is "a master in her ability to keep a class engaged." Both our student speakers have been in her classes and have been swept up in her extraordinary passion for teaching and learning.

Three years ago, Prof. Oberbrunner wrote these words, "I have never entered a class without a sense of excited anticipation - delight at the opportunity, hope to do my best, and the delicious expectation of questions, debates, and dialogue." I can think of no better words to describe this joyful moment of convocation for us all. I now invite Carol Oberbrunner to the podium.