Burstein rethinks community in opening convocation

President Mark Burstein accompanied by faculty at Convocation.
Photo by Tabarique Anwar

On Thursday, Sept. 15, Lawrence opened the 2016-17 Convocation Series with musical selections from Lecturer of Music and University Organist Kathrine Handford and the Welcome Week Choir, opening words from Professor of Music Howard Niblock in the form of a poem by Dylan Thomas, a welcome to freshmen, as well as eight new tenure track professors, and President Mark Burstein’s speech, entitled “Together, Against the Current.”

The speech focused on the challenges of creating and rethinking the experience of being in a community. Burstein said that in rethinking our community, the societal trend is to become more inflexible and less willing to listen and reach consensus. In looking for answers, Burstein turned to political and religious leaders, echoing statements made by Pope Francis and President Obama. Burstein urged students to look for the positive in views that differ from our own. He said, “Lawrence is still a college that can change lives, not just a holding tank.”

However, listening and openness are only part of the challenge. A key element to a liberal arts education is the ability to be tolerant of ambiguity and to wish for more answers rather than questions, according to Burstein. He said that he is “confident in the strength of our community to support its members,” and that “we are strengthened by the search for better answers.”

In closing his speech, Burstein reflected on his own life—an ambivalent course choice ended up changing his path, and that ambivalence can inspire hope and awe. Burstein says he is confident in Lawrence’s ability to overcome doubt and uncertainty.

Senior Rachel Gregory said, “As a senior, this reaffirmed the choice I made four years ago to study at a liberal arts college. I hope that in this year, and in the future, Lawrence will continue to grow as a welcoming and inclusive community that challenges students to broaden their horizons.”

The Convocation closed with words by Nicki Giavanni, read by Professor Niblock, and the “Suite Brève” by Jean Langlais, performed by Handford.

Echoing Gregory’s statements, sophomore Jessica Gehring said, “It was inspirational, given the recent events on campus this year and throughout our society, to hear possible solutions to deep rooted issues.”