The annual “Launching the New Year” event was held Tuesday, August 29. The entire University community was invited to join in this traditional Sewanee celebration of the new academic year.
Provost Nancy Berner introduced the student leaders, who each spoke briefly about their respective student organizations’ plans for the coming year.
President of the Student Government Association Brandon Iracks-Edelin, C’18, reminded students that attending Sewanee is both a privilege and an opportunity, and spoke of the chances students have to learn from everyone here—their peers, faculty, and community members. Following the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, he encouraged others to listen actively, speak up about injustice, and to be a beacon of light. SGA hopes to be an agent of change on campus this year.
Gina Jenkins, T’18, president of the St. Luke’s Community of the School of Theology, expects to continue the School’s collaboration with the Office of Civic Engagement. In addition, the School of Theology will work on ways to foster positive change in unsettled relationships and to live into the University motto, EQB.
President of the Order of the Gown Hadley Montgomery, C’18, spoke of the Order of the Gown as a platform for conversations and a place to moderate discussions (along the lines of the Finding Your Place first-year program) about what “place” means for diverse individuals.
In his remarks, Vice-Chancellor John McCardell reminded the audience of the four broad themes of the University’s strategic plan: creating an exemplary learning environment; realizing the potential of the Domain; extending the reach of the University globally and locally; and fostering a diverse, cohesive, and inclusive community. After reaffirming those themes, he spoke about two traits he hopes will characterize our work together in the coming year: integrity, first, and then humility.
McCardell used words from Benjamin Franklin as well as New York Times columnist David Brooks to illustrate and clarify these traits that, he said, “in these times of trouble and anxiety and division we need now more than ever.”
Quoting Brooks, he said, “Progress is … made by finding balance … between freedom and security, diversity and solidarity. There is always going to be counter-evidence and mystery. There is no final arrangement that will end conflict, just endless searching and adjustment.”
The vice-chancellor suggested beginning with the community commitments in the University’s EQB Guide as the Sewanee community works toward greater integrity (“naming what needs to be named, saying what it is that we individually believe”) and humility (“acknowledging the possibility that maybe, just maybe we could be mistaken, that the other guy may just have a point”). Those commitments are:
Living with personal integrity.
Respecting the dignity of all.
Valuing freedom of thinking and expression.
Developing trusting relationships.
Then he and the student leaders each made personal commitments to do something specific in the community this year to strengthen this place we call home. (See their commitments and others’ here, and add your own.)
“Do something where you can actually begin to make a difference” urged McCardell. “George Eliot writes, ‘Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.’ Decide to bring small things together. Only in this way can the arc of the universe be bent, if only ever so slightly, toward justice and peace.” Read the vice-chancellor's full remarks.
The event was followed by a picnic in the Quad, including games and live music, for students, faculty and staff members, and their families.