Convocation

President Joyce P. Jacobsen

President Joyce P. Jacobsen
Convocation Remarks
August 26, 2019

Please all be seated. Thank you for all coming today. Thank you to the faculty for robing up and the staff for coming as well and for helping many of us to robe up. And to the students, I'd particularly like to say hello to the first-year students—I saw you a few days ago, but now you're on the other side where the classes start and the good times really begin—now that you're through the orientation. But also, hello to all the upper-class students as well that I haven't all gotten to meet yet.

This is my first time to be here in front of you at Convocation. And I thought a minute about what it means to have a convocation. A convocation is from the Latin convocāre and it means to call or come together and it's related to the Greek term ecclesia as a group of people formally assembled for a special purpose, mostly again for ecclesiastical or academic.

At some colleges, convocation refers to a formal ceremony in which arriving students, particularly first-year students often, are welcomed, while at others, as here, it's to welcome all returning members of the college community and that is our purpose today. And surprisingly at other universities, convocation is used to refer to graduation, so interestingly, we often talk about graduation as a commencement, but really, this is a commencement also. We're commencing on different stages of our life when we come together today and when we gather again in the spring, to commence for those graduating the next stage of their life.

But why do we have these meetings? What is important about Convocation? About convoking? Well, we are embarking on a journey together whether you're a first-year student, a middle-year student or a last-year student and also for the rest of us, the faculty and the staff that are here today as well, and the others they represent who will be here with you this year, with the students. But what are we embarking on? We are embarking on something that is very visceral; it's a visceral thing to study, to learn, to be academic.

We're going to be working together to discover the pleasures of discovery, of competence, increasing competence, and mastery. But what should you be discovering and mastering? Do we tell you what you should be discovering or mastering?

Well, you decide in part, but faculty and staff lead students, as well as leading each other, to look in particular areas that we think are particularly important to understanding the human condition, the world in which we live, and the challenges ahead. And also, you learn how to discover and master through the analytical and rhetorical and pedagogical techniques that we teach you, both explicitly and through our examples of our lives as people, faculty, and staff that have dedicated ourselves to this work of education.

Now there are those in the world who want to tell others what they should be learning. And so do we here. But we do so in a liberal fashion here. We don’t tell you exactly what to learn, just within general guidelines, hence the liberal arts and sciences. I'll speak more in the coming months, including at my Inauguration for those who want to come to that, about how we can make it to that meaning of what it means to have the liberal arts and sciences and how the meaning of those terms have changed and are still changing over time.

But towards what end do we discover and master? To take another phrase that we use here, which I really treasure, one of the reasons I came here, it's to become a person of consequence. A person of consequence to yourself, but also hopefully, to become a person of consequence to others, to your immediate family, but also to the broader community or society, however you define it. Are all things equally worthy of being mastered? Yes, to yourself, to you yourself, they are, but not always to the rest of the world.

You need other people to test your ideas against. An idea often sounds fine in your head, a song in the shower sounds great when you sing it by yourself, the symphony we compose in our dream sounds fantastic. Too bad we never write it down. We are not our own best critics; some of us are too harsh on ourselves and most of us are too easy on ourselves. Other people are the sounding board that we need. If we cannot convince others of our idea's rightness, we need to think about whether it is really right. It might be, but the odds are against it. If it is really right, you should be able to convince other intelligent people who also have become educated that it is right. So you should be suspicious who claims that they are always right about everything.

First of all, it seems statistically unlikely and probably more likely, that they just haven’t met enough people who were willing and able to challenge them effectively.

Humility is being able to admit that you are wrong and to learn from your mistakes. Not just double-down and insist you are right. And even if you are right, if you can't learn to convince anyone else of your rightness, then it doesn’t do you or the world much good. Others also tell us what they think is important and whether what we're working on is important or not. It can be important to you, but if others aren't interested, you're not going to have much effect on them. Well, there are many ways to learn and all of those ways, at some point, you need to explain your ideas and answers to others. Or you forego the reality checks of whether or not you are right and whether or not anyone cares about what you think.

So here is the true significance of the academic convocation. Here in this place, we have brought together you, along with other people, with whom you can converse and discuss, all academic-year long—and in some cases the rest of your lives. Students, staff, faculty—let's all try to engage in the process of discovery and analysis together so that we can all learn from our interactions.

This is a place, at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where you can make new friends and discuss new ideas with them and make lifelong friends to continue those discussions with for many, many years. You can also meet people who will become mentors to you and continue to have a relationship with you for many years after you leave this place.

And who is best on calling you out on your stuff when you are wrong or when you think something you care about is more important than it really is? A real friend and a mentor.

We're going to hear more from our four speakers this afternoon. Our two student speakers, our alumnus speaker and our faculty speaker. About discovery. About mastery. And competence. And about how their interests were nurtured by the people they met in school, including this school and about how they nurtured others to discover and master as well. And all of this takes place and is nurtured by institutes like these Colleges that we sit at today. And in particular for you by these Colleges. That is a proud thing that we can take a moment, an occasion such as this Convocation today to celebrate. As we commence on this year of learning, of discovery, and mastery and increasing competence. Thank you.

So with us today is an explorer whose passion, hard work, and willingness to take on formidable projects has led to some of the most important discoveries in recent memory in the field of paleontology. Matt Lamanna of the Hobart College Class of 1997 is a remarkable scientist who has spent the past twenty years, traveling the globe in search of answers to how dinosaurs and how their environments evolved. He is one of the very few paleontologists in history to have found fossils of these animals on all seven continents and his research is regularly covered in major national and international publications. After graduating with high honors and a Bachelors of Science in geoscience and biology at Hobart, Matt studied Paleontology at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his Doctoral degree. On an expedition to Egypt while pursuing his doctorate, he and his collaborators discovered a gigantic, new species of sauropod, or long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur. That was the first in a series of Matt's international excavations, yielding new insights into prehistoric life. Since then, he has named and discovered a number of dinosaurs as well as early bird. Now an associate curator or vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, Matt also serves as the museum's principal dinosaur researcher and is the lead scientific advisor for the museum's Dinosaurs and their Time exhibit. I am thrilled that Matt is here with us today to celebrate the beginning of an exciting new semester and to help us kick off this year of exploration. Please join me in welcoming Matt Lamanna.

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.