During his speech, Solomon shared many personal stories.
Photo by Luke Payne
On Thursday, Feb. 2, Andrew Solomon spoke in the next installment of the 2016–17 Convocation series. Solomon is the author of “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity”, published in 2012. He discussed the intersections and divergences between illness and identity and how our differences unite us.
Solomon is currently a lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College and a professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the president of PEN American Center and received his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a master’s degree from Jesus College, Cambridge—both in English. He also earned his Ph.D. in psychology from Cambridge.
Solomon has contributed to both The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, and won the 2001 National Book Award for Nonfiction with his book “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression.”
The Convocation featured opening and closing performances from Lecturer of Music and University Organist Kathrine Handford on organ, as well as a performance from the brass quintet “Liquid Jungle.” There was a question and answer session with Solomon following his talk.
Solomon began with a quote from Time Magazine, published when he was three years old, that described homosexuality as an illness. He professed his astonishment that we have come so far as to view something as an illness not 50 years before passing legislation legalizing gay marriage and openly celebrating it.
From this vantage point, he examined other parts of society that we consider to be illnesses and the ways in which medical progress and societal progress are not always in sync.
Solomon spoke of his own journey coming out to his parents. He quoted his mother, who said, “The love you have for your child is unlike anything you have known, and until you have one, you can never know what it will feel like.” From this perspective, he examined the different kind of love parents have for disabled children.
He also discussed his own journey in parenthood, from a place first of discomfort at the idea that he might not have children given his homosexuality, and then from a place of his own love for his children, which spans different states throughout the country and a variety of different parents.
He talked about his own fear that his child would be disabled, despite his research that showed children that were stronger because of their disability. Upon hearing the news that his own child might be disabled, he was overwhelmed with panic and fear.
Freshman Julian Bennett said that Solomon’s personal story was “what made the difference between simply an analytical view and really caring about these ideas and activist platforms that [he] stood from.”
Bennett said after the Convocation, “I wanted to call my parents afterwards —- the prospective that he took on parenthood was very heartwarming.”
Sophomore Josh Tan said that the Convocation “really made [him] think,” and junior David Sieracki said, “It was very moving.”