Convocation committee strives to increase student attendance

Fanny Lau

The Committee on Public Occasions has been working on multiple strategies this year to increase convocation attendance through student introductions of speakers, a wider variety of convocation speakers and the Community Read program.

This standing committee is made up of a faculty member from each academic division, as well as a student representative. Chaired by Associate Professor of Music and Teacher of Viola Matthew Michelic, the committee members include Vice President for Alumni, Development and Communications Calvin Husmann, Assistant Professor of Classics Kevin Tracy, Associate Professor of Physics Jeffrey Collett, Associate Professor of Art Julie Lindemann, Associate Professor of Music Joanne Metcalf and student representative, sophomore Jamie Cartwright.

Said Michelic, “Being on the committee is a very rewarding experience because the work that we do is very visible to the community and the convocation has a very tangible result.”

Recently, the convocation lectures have been poorly attended. In an attempt to increase convocation attendance, the committee is planning to have a student introduce each convocation speaker. Michelic commented that now “students will be able to see their peers as part of the convocation.” Additionally, Michelic noted a hope that this will provide a significant opportunity for students to be mentored by a faculty member in preparation for their speech, as well as connect with the speakers.

The committee is currently focusing on the upcoming convocation by Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker.

Sophomore Alex York is currently working with Associate Professor of Music Julie McQuinn to introduce Ross at the next convocation.

York noted his belief that “the convocation series can be an awesome resource for students looking to expand their academic horizons beyond their interests,” and that “everyone should take an hour and a half per term to listen to successful and inspiring speakers.”

In addition, a Community Read has been organized this term around Alex Ross’ book “Listen to This” to build excitement for his lecture. Michelic revealed that “if Ross speaks the way he writes, it will be incredibly interesting because [Ross] is very culturally aware and currently the rock star of music critics.”

York, who is also involved in the Community Read, stated, “Our book discussions are full of stimulating conversation about both classical and pop music. Ross has a unique way of stepping back from the music and viewing it through a wider lens.”

Michelic divulged that the Committee on Public Occasions attempts to collect information from all four corners of the university and welcomes input from all students and faculty when choosing convocation speakers.

Student participation is built into the structure of the committee. Student representative Cartwright acknowledged that the lower number of students attending convocation was a known problem, and noted that “[the committee doesn’t] really know why, because the trend of convocations hasn’t really changed.”

Cartwright hopes to offer a student perspective by thinking of radically new ways to attract students to the convocation series.

Finally, Michelic highlighted the “surprise” a convocation can have on its listeners by referencing medical anthropologist Sara Quandt’s convocation lecture last Spring Term. Though he “had little knowledge of the speaker,” Michelic was blown away by Quandt’s ability to deliver “a beautiful message humbly and succinctly.”

Michelic emphasized that if students go into the convocation series with an open mind, they can learn about the world in new ways because in this day and age, “there is something extraordinary about getting that personal vibe from a live speaker as a member of a bigger audience.”

Ross will be delivering a convocation lecture Thursday, Nov. 3 called “The Lamento Connection: Bass Lines of Music History.”

Prior to attending this convocation, Michelic recommended looking into Ross’s online blog,, to find book summaries, videos and audio guides or to simply listen to music.