Opening Convocation heralds start of Centre’s year
September 5, 2013 By Diane F. Johnson, College Editor
waters. All of them," said Judith Jia. "That testing, not the kind
with a #2 pencil, is the core of a liberal arts education."
"Some people—dull people—cannot see the options in front of
them," Tony Haigh said. "They see only the one way that is
mapped out for them."
With ceremony, solemnity and pageantry, Centre's Opening Convocation heralded the official start of the academic year last Sunday, Sept. 1.
Faculty in their colorful academic robes—including 18 new full-time members—and the 377 members of the first-year class processed into Newlin Hall to the majestic tones of Johnson's Trumpet Tune in A played by Zach Klobnak, making his debut as the new College organist. The Class of 2017 is the largest in Centre history and helped boost enrollment to 1,383, also the largest in Centre history. Eight transfer students are among the newcomers on campus.
Opening Convocation is one of three convocations that brings the entire college together (the others are Founders Day in January and Honors Convocation in May).
Judith Pointer Jia, Hazelrigg Associate Professor of Art and the first of the evening's two faculty speakers, described how it was only long after she'd left home that she realized the unexpected benefits of growing up in a small town in southwestern Kansas.
"I grew up in the middle of nowhere," she said, in a "flat and desolate" town, population 400, where the wind blew "incessantly day in and day out," and the largest city for 200 miles was the size of Danville.
"I couldn't wait to get out," she said.
Jia majored in art at the University of Kansas, then spent her twenties working on her art around a series of unrelated jobs. It was not until graduate school that she began to appreciate "that flat place" of her youth.
"[G]rowing up there had trained my eye to be highly observant of detail," she said. "When there isn't much to see, you look harder and deeper to find the interesting."
At the age of 29, she went to graduate school in order to strengthen her skills as an artist. But teaching assistantships convinced her of the rewards to be found in the classroom.
"As an undergrad, I couldn't have known I'd end up a professor," she said. "I simply trudged forward, pursuing what I liked to do, testing the waters as I went.
"And that's what I encourage you to do here at Centre—test the waters. All of them. That testing, not the kind with a #2 pencil, is the core of a liberal arts education.
"Embrace the twists and turns, and explore," she encouraged the Class of 2017. "You've got to be prepared for when opportunity comes knocking."
Anthony R. Haigh, professor of dramatic arts, focused his remarks on the importance of journeys and their role in the stories of our lives.
His own journey began in the northwest of England, at the time "an industrial landscape devoid of anything natural or leaning towards conventional ideas of beauty," he said.
He described a "brutalist" educational system that determined at age 11 which children would set off on the path toward college and which to futures as industrial apprentices or, more likely, as factory workers. Yet even those seemingly ordained paths could—like his—be influenced by teachers and others who took chances on individual students and helped them achieve the skills they needed to succeed on entirely different roads.
Haigh challenged the first-year students to imagine themselves in a variety of futures, not just the easiest or the most obvious.
"Some people—dull people—cannot see the options in front of them," he said. "They see only the one way that is mapped out for them."
He added, "Education should be transformative. That's why you are at Centre."
Haigh cited the work of Dr. Ralph Kerle, who studies creative leadership and "ideators," the imaginative idea generators within organizations who see many roads, where others see only one.
"When we become the 'ideator' and offer that new way of looking at the world, or choose a path that was not expected of us, it takes courage," Haigh said. "It is all about risk taking. . . . About accepting the possibility of failure as a starting point in the creative process."
In conclusion, he urged the first-year students to "go outside your comfort zone and look for the divergent pathway. To listen to others who may not think like you. To use your imagination and be open to new possibilities.
"Sometimes it will get you into trouble," he warned. "Sometimes you won't be understood by those who control the one pathway. But your life will be richer for it."
Cody Cook ’14, Student Government Association president from Louisville, presented a quote from Mahatma Gandhi as the motto chosen by the Class of 2017: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."
Class mottos are engraved on a plaque that hangs in the library.
Fall term classes at Centre began Monday.
To read Judith Pointer Jia's remarks, "Discovering the Unexpected," click here.
To read Anthony R. Haigh's remarks, "Where Three Roads Meet," click here.
Centre College, founded in 1819, offers its students a world of opportunities, highlighted by the nation's premier study abroad program and a faculty ranked #5 in the nation for "Best Undergraduate Teaching" at a liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report. Centre graduates enjoy extraordinary success, with entrance to top graduate and professional schools, prestigious fellowships for further study abroad (Rhodes, Rotary, Fulbright), and rewarding jobs (on average, 97 percent are employed or in advanced study within 10 months of graduation).