Convocation Ushers in New School Year, Speakers Address Supreme Court and Race Tensions

Photo by Carolyn Brown '16 Katherine Hazen '18 News Editor Each year, students pile into John M. Greene Hall on a sweaty September night to celebrate the beginning of the school year. Faculty members delivered speeches in full robes while students attended wearing much less. The ceremony ended and the carnival began, with palm readers, t-shirts, ice cream, a moon bounce and more for students to enjoy. As usual, President McCartney opened the ceremony, welcoming students back to campus. In her speech, she acknowledged the social victories and injustices that happened while students were away. The crowd lauded her mention of the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage. The praise intensified when McCartney spoke to the Smith community’s obligation to confront microaggressions and injustice where they exist on campus, almost as a tongue-in-cheek reference to her own blunder last year when she sent an email with the subject line, “All Lives Matter.” It goes without saying that students had no qualms pointing out the mistake to the administration. Smith’s new Chief Diversity Officer and interim Title IX coordinator Dwight Hamilton followed McCartney. Hamilton also addressed the same national issue of police brutality against black citizens—as did almost all of the speakers that night—although he shared his vision for an expansion of the programs and resources available in the Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity. Hamilton proposed his initiative to survey each student’s experience of Smith. William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English Michael Thurston spoke about failure, encouraging students to try to fail at least once this year, noting he himself failed out of college during his first year. “It wasn’t even a good college,” Thurston added. “No matter what your experience of womanhood has been over the course of your life, no matter what kind of body you have, and no matter what that body is wearing or not tonight, you are brilliant and you are inspiring and you belong here,” Thurston said to much applause. Dean of the College Donna Lisker came after Thurston’s impassioned speech and the Glee Club’s rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Student Government Association President Meghna Purkayastha ’16 closed the ceremony, introducing herself to her constituents and describing her plans for the new school year. Students flooded out of John M. Greene Hall for the carnival, a component of Convocation that was established only three years ago. “The carnival was added three years ago to provide students with a place to celebrate the start of a new year outside of the houses. It also gives student who don’t attend the Convocation in JMG an opportunity to celebrate the start of a new year,” said Tamra Bates of the Office of Student Engagement, adding, “I think it gets better every year.” Not many changes were made from the previous year, Bates stated. The Office kept the same food but chose local providers instead of national chains. Convocation has evolved dramatically from the days when full dress was required and will inevitably continue to change with the student body, as traditions seem to do at Smith.