Convocation emphasizes importance of home and belonging

To kick off the 2020-21 Matriculation Convocation Program, President Mark Burstein delivered his talk, “Finding Home: Belonging During a Pandemic,” on Sep. 24 at 11:15 a.m. as a webcast.

The event began with a prelude from several faculty members of the voice department collaborating virtually to perform “Show Us How to Love” by Mark Miller. 

Following the prelude, junior Jessica Hopkins, the president of Lawrence University Native American Organization, read the Lawrence University Land Acknowledgement. 

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Public Events Committee Allison Fleshman then proceeded to introduce Burstein, utilizing the pre-recorded nature of this convocation to introduce Burstein in an unorthodox manner. Fleshman introduced Burstein by taking a “field trip” to Burstein’s office and proceeded to sit in his chair while identifying aspects of Burstein’s office that represented his personality.

One such object was a student directory, used by Burstein when encountering and emailing students so that he is able to place names to faces and better know students. Fleshman continued to identify pieces in Burstein’s office that she thought represented his character and personality in a more intimate way than a formal introduction could.

Following this unusual introduction, Burstein began his speech by thanking those who spoke and performed before him and expressing, “No year calls more for love than this one.” Burstein also thanked his colleagues with whom he had collaborated with to discuss the subject of belonging prior to his speech.

During this past summer, Burstein  spent much time pondering the concept of home, leading him to reassess his priorities. This reassessment was imperative in his decision to leave Lawrence University after this academic year in order to care more for his family.

Despite the approaching end of his presidency at Lawrence, Burstein declared that he is proud to always call Appleton home, no matter where he goes. 

He also mentioned how the pandemic has made it more difficult for many people to return to places that had felt like home. According to Burstein, this time of isolation for people calls for a greater need to feel a sense of belonging.

Expanding beyond his personal definitions of home, Burstein pulled in perspectives from many experts and scholars, including poet Natasha Trethewey and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown. From his sources, Burstein concluded that finding meaning in life is rooted in belonging, which is critical for learning. 

Despite the intimate nature of finding home and the dynamic process in which it entails, Burstein called all members of campus to contribute to creating a safe environment in which everyone feels safe to become their own most selves.

Following Burstein’s discussion of home, Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life Linda Morgan-Clement shared some closing words. She described Burstein’s talk as an invitation to complex reflections on belonging and home, especially during these times of isolation.

Morgan-Clement urged everyone not to be perfect but rather to be authentic and “love each imperfect self.” In closing, she shared David Whyte’s poem, “Everything is Waiting for You.” Following this, senior Hung Phi Nguyen performed “Trống Cơm” by Đặng Hữu Phúc on piano for the postlude.

The next convocation in the series will take place on Thursday, Jan. 28, at 11:10 a.m. This talk, “The Radical Possibility and Democratic Necessity of Navel Gazing” will be shared by Kiese Laymon. Laymon is an author and the Hubert H. McAlexander Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi.