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Where Has Convocation Gone?

There will be no scenes like the below one this year. Phil and Provost Carolyn Dever have decided that Convocation just isn’t worth it:

“We’re going to approach the start of classes differently as we preserve what’s best about the beginning of the school year,” says Provost Carolyn Dever. “The Convocation ceremony conflicted with courses and duplicated activities for the incoming class, resulting in poor attendance. This year we’ll mark the beginning of classes with a whole series of welcoming events and ceremonial gatherings for the community at large.”

Convocation 2014B.jpg

Now that’s a real shame. Convocation, as we saw at last year’s event, traditionally features speeches by the President (the event in the fall of 1975 marked the first occasion that I heard Hungarian-accented President John Kemeny intone his legendary opening: “Vimmen and men of Dartmouth”), senior administrators, and the President of the Student Assemby (in 2005, SA President Noah Riner suggested that, “Jesus is a good example of character, but He’s also much more than that. He is the solution to flawed people like corrupt Dartmouth alums, looters, and me.”) Convocation is traditionally the second most important event in the College’s calendar after Commencement.

Let’s note that Convocation consists of more than speeches: it is a solemn, elegant occasion welcoming the new class of freshmen, letting them know formally and thoughtfully that they are only the most recent addition to a long line of scholars, and that they are members of a community bigger than each one of them, a community devoted to learning and discovery. Phil Hanlon and Gail Gente’s alternative community cookout is not going to convey this same message in a meaningful and effective way:

Community Cookout 2015 Comp.jpg

Of course, students will shake hands with Phil in his office, and they will be invited to sign the College’s new Code of Conduct Pledge, but I just can’t see that the requisite emotional connection will be established by such activities. If Phil is concerned about changing the Dartmouth student culture, fire and brimstone is what he should be offering, rather than burgers, music and chit chat.

Will Commencement will be cancelled next June, too? Perhaps everyone will just get a free burger at that time, and Phil will send out diplomas by e-mail?

Addendum: We should note that Convocation is yet another victim of the College’s foreshortened academic calendar, a Kim/Folt change that allowed fall term to end before Thanksgiving — and that also brought us two Saturdays of classes, the briefest of reading periods, and a seemingly endless, six-week-long Xmas break. The quarter system is short enough as it is; an administration focused on academics would end fall term in mid-December so that students could have a longer reading period and more time for coursework in each of the academic year’s quarters.

Addendum: Is it just me, or does anyone else have the sense that the Dartmouth administration is slowly, but quite surely, grinding to a halt?

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

I can still recall John Sloan Dickey’s perennial closing to his Convocation address: “Men of Dartmouth, your business here is learning. Good luck. We’ll be with you all the way.” Inspirational, challenging, and comforting.

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