Ask A Fifth-Year: Convocation attendance a non-issue for Lawrence

Evan Williams

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

Dear Evan,

Recently, there’s been a lot of concern about convocation attendance. What’s your take on the issue?


Amos Lawrence

Thanks for shining light, more light on this issue, Amos. I’m going to begin my answer to your question, with another question: Did you know that Sunday is Easter? I just realized it, really. This holiday used to be a time for family and celebration, but this Sunday will be one of recitals and catching up on homework.

Why do I bring this up? Am I too stupid to realize when major religious holidays are coming? Am I too self-absorbed to pay attention to the calendar? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I’m busy. I don’t want to play the “who’s busiest” game, because I know that there are Lawrentians who are even busier than I, and who manage their time better, but I think it’s telling that I was too busy to notice that Easter was this weekend.

So a couple of weeks ago when I realized there was a convocation, my first instinct was to think, “Oh good, I don’t have to go to studio. I can take a nap or catch up on work.” I’m certain I was not the only person to think this, and that makes us a part of this “problem” of low convocation attendance. In fact, in my five years here, I have attended two convocations — Terry Moran and Frank Rich — and even at those, I dozed off a little.

I certainly understand the administration’s and faculty’s desire for us to attend convocations. I know that the actual reason that the library, dining services and health services are closed is not “to allow staff to attend convocation,” but to coerce us into going. I also understand that convocations help to serve Lawrence’s mission — to make us well rounded and aware of important issues.

In the past, I would have seriously considered attending convocation and then made a believable excuse of why I needed that time to do other things, but after five years I’ve realized that I just don’t care. I just want to get my degree and mosey on out of here. Am I proud of this? No, but I’m not ashamed either.

In the past, convocations were required. A perusal through past yearbooks will show you protests of this requirement at convocations. In one picture, a group of students held up a sign that read “We are a captive audience.”

I’m sure there were students then who welcomed extra lectures in subjects they didn’t study. I also know that there are students now who also love attending convocations. But there is no denying that there is a great number of Lawrentians who have no interest in attending a convocation.

Are we lazy, close-minded or not interested growing as people? Of course not. We work and study hard, and sometimes a nap or sleeping in is the highlight of our day, or even week. Are there great life lessons that we’ve missed by not attending convocations? Probably. But is trying to make us feel guilty on the pages of The Lawrentian and campus-wide e-mails going to encourage us to go? No.

If convocation speakers included people I was more familiar with and topics I cared about, of course I’d go. But I understand that Lawrence is not Harvard or some huge school that can bring in big name people. However, maybe the administration should understand that they will not be able to fill the Chapel with people anxious to hear about something they don’t care about from someone they’ve never heard of.

Am I saying that we should end convocations? Of course not, Lawrentians and the community deserve the opportunity to hear and learn new ideas and perspectives from Lawrence faculty and scholars in the field. Am I saying that convocations should be required again? Definitely not. It would be unfair to any speaker to have their audience be disrespectful and inattentive because they were required to be there.

What I’m trying to say is maybe there is no attendance problem with convocations. Maybe the people who are there are the ones that should be there, want to be there and will get a lot out of being there. So maybe we should care less about filling Chapel seats. After all, are you trying to fill these seats to get more people to be impressed by a speaker, or for the speaker to be impressed by the number of seats filled?

I apologize to those who you who expected to read something funny here, or who are now deeply disappointed by my lack of willingness to learn great and wonderful things in convocations, but I just thought that the voice of the silent majority should be heard in this debate. I promise that my next column will be full of wholesome fun for the whole family to enjoy!