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September 4, 2019

I’d like to begin today by acknowledging that we gather on Mohican and Lenape lands—Indigenous peoples lands. We honor them as well as the neighboring Indigenous nations to the north, east, south, and west of us.

Members of the Faculty, Students, Administrators, Staff, House Fellows, Reverend Speers, Professor Collins, VSA President Espina, and President Bradley, Good afternoon and welcome to this beautiful chapel. Welcome also to the outstanding classes of 2020 and 2023. I am excited to convene this wonderful group of peers, students, staff, and administrators.

As always I am most thankful for the people who have made this gathering possible, including members of our facilities teams but also dining. Paraphrasing photographer Greg Halpern, Vassar works because they do. I would also like to thank Dean Terry Quinn, Professor Leslie Offutt, Professor Abby Baird, Michael Drucker, Wesley Dixon, and Angela DePaolo for working out the many details that have made today possible.

Convocation marks the beginning of the academic year, and in its current form, dates back over a century to 1914. Convocation is a special occasion because it's perhaps the only institutional tradition where we ask seniors and first-years to hold space with one another as we simultaneously celebrate both.

Convocation embodies institutional memory in ways that it asks seniors, in the presence of their new first year colleagues, to reflect back on their own time and history at the College. The practice and ritual of reflection are similar for First years as we bring to a close the excitement and work of your weeklong orientation to the College. As you see the seniors before you in their graduation gowns, you cannot help but think about all that awaits you during your time here. How will you grow and change in the next four years? How will we change and transform as a College precisely because of your presence here?

In this way, convocation is also a meaningful moment for members of the faculty, administrators, and staff as well. For me, it's helped me think about my first year in this role and all the things it's taught me about students, my colleagues on this stage, and myself. Convocation marks a new beginning for us all as we meet many of you for the first time, teach new classes, or prepare new forms of programming and events.

Just yesterday afternoon, I was so excited, anxious, and giddy to head to my class for the first time. I decided to head out a little early to Blodgett and use the extra time to walk around our beautiful campus and practice what I often preach to students about balance and self-care. As I walked past the warring factions of squirrels all over campus, I found myself touching the trees and picking-up acorns and flowers without a care in the world. I eventually made my way through the Blodgett maze (don't worry I'm a certified Blodgett guide) up to the third floor to BH 309. As I turned the corner to enter the classroom, perfectly on time, I realized there was a class in there. Not my class. I quickly glanced at my phone and realized I was supposed to be in RH 309, not BH 309. Did I mention I've been here 13 years? As I quickly hurried out of Blodgett, I thought about breaking out into a full sprint. Immediately I reminded myself that I didn't want to end up on Vassar memes and so I thought better of it and speed-walked.

I made it to class hot, sweaty, flustered, and a little shamed. These feelings quickly dissipated as I was met with the engagement and most especially the grace of the students in that room. We quickly went over the syllabus and moved on to deep and meaningful conversations. We talked about the politics of remembering, thought about various pathways of learning, how we evolve as thinkers and students, and how we can still learn from the most unexpected places.

So as we start the year together, I hope we'll all take some time to remember to seek balance in our own lives and go for extended or even better; unexpected walks. Remember to laugh. Laugh a lot. Forgive yourselves now for the mistakes you will make. Most importantly let's remember to work together and show one another the reciprocity and grace that our “complex personhood” demands (Gordon, 1997). Welcome and best of luck as we begin another chapter in the transformation of ourselves and this special place.

About the Speaker

Carlos Alamo-Pastrana, dean of the college and associate professor of sociology, received his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. His teaching interests focus on comparative racial formations, Latino/a Studies, Afro-Latina/o intellectual history, popular culture, and prison studies. The dean of the college area oversees and coordinates the activities of the dean of studies, the dean of residential life and wellness, administrative services that directly impact the quality of student life, and offices that support and facilitate extracurricular activities.