Convocation 2005

Some 200 students, faculty, and staff filled the Founder’s Room to overflowing late in the afternoon of Wednesday, August 31st to formally begin the new academic year with rituals tracing back to the medieval universities of Europe. President Nemerowicz welcomed everyone to campus, talked about the importance of community and connectedness particularly in light of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the anniversary of 9/11, and officially inaugurated the new academic year.

The convocation address was delivered by the winner of the Gibson Teaching Award, Robert Shea, Associate Professor of Sociology and Assistant Dean of the First Year Experience, who asked “What does this ritual tell us about the PMC community? Why have we elected not to stretch out into a large auditorium but to cram ourselves into this beautiful space? We are a community that values intimacy. We value relationships and we value contact. We value not only sharing the same space, but also interacting with each other in meaningful ways. To sit close together and listen to each other, knowing that we all have much to teach and much to learn from each other.

“I believe,” Shea continued, “that we recognize and celebrate the fact that learning is not a one-way street in which knowledge is imparted from expert to novice, but that occurs in an environment where people become aware of each other as whole beings and recognize that each member of the community brings expertise from which all others can benefit.

“As we begin this year together, I urge all of us to engage each other more, listen more attentively to each other, and to be open to all the lessons that we can learn from one another,” he said. “Scan the room, and look a little closer. We’re a diverse lot and we come here from different places, with different backgrounds, and different experiences. We are, for the third year in a row, the most diverse college in the country, according to U.S. News.”

“It is not enough for us to have the potential to interact with others,” Shea emphasized. “If we do not seize the opportunity to do we have squandered something that is incredibly rare in our society. And while other institutions might marvel at our ranking and want to know how we achieved it, we are moving beyond this discussion and openly embracing the exciting possibilities of living and working in a diverse community.”

“In many ways we are a work in progress; an experiment,” Shea said. “And I, for one, am very grateful to be a part of it. My wish for us all for this year is that we both cherish the opportunity we have been given and challenge ourselves to teach and learn from each other in some unprecedented ways.”

“Finally, Shea concluded, “we, as a community, are committed to reflecting on the processes by which we grow and change. We recognize that the processes by which an outcome is achieved are at least as important, usually more so, than the outcome itself. Being able to note who we are and how we are changing is an important skill, and one which each of us can further cultivate. I encourage all of us to work on honing that skill this year.”

Professor Shea was followed by Zalikah Lewis, this year’s Student Government Association President who said, “As SGA President I look forward to leaving a legacy and a mark at PMC when I graduate next spring. I also look forward to leaving a group of confident and determined leaders who will create their own remarkable legacy. To do this they will need to acknowledge and accept challenges when confronted with them. All of us need to overtake and overcome our fears and go forward. Speak up if you’re uncomfortable, speak up if you’re unhappy, and speak up whenever you feel like. Let your voice be heard and your actions be seen. Taking action is a powerful thing.

“First Years,” Lewis pointed out, “this may seem like a new place but this is now your home, so get comfy and challenge all the obstacles in your way to your own legacy. Sophomores, you are now seasoned with a year under your belt and three more to attack like a lion in the jungle. Juniors, you’re almost out the door. But you still have some unfinished business and two years to do it. Seniors the Class of 2006, before you know it you’ll be out the door.

“Look out for the First Years, who may be shy,” she said. “Help the sophomores who are looking for the right fit. Encourage the juniors who feel like two years is still way too long. Essentially, what I’m saying is look out for one another. Build a cohesive unit; bring strength and power to the PMC community. Lastly, challenge the people who try to silence your voice and discourage your powerful efforts and energy.”