At the beginning of each new fall semester, students and faculty gather together to participate in Convocation: the kick-off for the academic year. This year, Convocation looked a little different. Instead of being together in the gymnasium, all attendees were able to participate from the comfort of their own dorm room, home, or office through Zoom.
Dr. Kenton Sparks, provost and vice president of student affairs describes Convocation as serving two basic functions, one being to start the school year and place an emphasis on academics, and the second to bring forth and discuss important conversations.
To serve the first function of Convocation, the event started with a worship song performed by Eastern’s
Chapel worship ministry followed by an induction led by university chaplain, Dr. Joe Modica. Afterwards, President Ronald Matthews gave a speech addressing the student body and faculty, welcoming them to Eastern, wherever their learning is taking place this year.
Following that, Perry Brisbon and Dr. Steven Ford led the participants in the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” reminding everyone of God’s never-ending love before a speech from the Student Government Association president, Jessica Kelly, the installation of seven new faculty members, the announcement of student awards, and a breathtaking performance by Turning Point, Eastern’s select choir.
The second function of Convocation came into the picture with a sermon from guest speaker Rev. Steven Lawrence, who is an Eastern alum and the president of the New Conversation on Race and Ethnicity (NewCORE) which seeks to establish justice and understanding with matters concerning race.
In his talk, Lawrence focused on the importance of language in race relations and empathy and how the
language we use can keep us further apart and divided from one another. “How are we going to step across the barrier language has made for us?” Lawrence asked.
As a solution, he proposed that getting to really know other people and asking them questions about the world is going to help bridge that gap made by our language. “Our stories about the world are inaccurate because they are incomplete. And we may suspect that the completing parts of the story are in the other person’s. We need the others for the missing pieces. We need to seek out the other not only to get the truth about them, but to get the truth about the world,” Lawrence said.
In an interview about the decisions surrounding Convocation, Sparks mentioned that bringing in Lawrence as the guest speaker for the event was going to be beneficial for those in attendance and bringing up the relevant and important conversation surrounding race in America.
“There’s an opportunity for America to wake up, to own what’s being done to people of color, especially our Black neighbors, and we want to seize the opportunity by making sure that Eastern is a part of the conversation about that. In particular, we want to make sure that we don’t divorce our academic activities from social justice. It’s really easy to analyze things academically, theoretically, and platonically, but how do you move from that to real life, to making a difference in the world?” Sparks said.
Convocation ended with affirmations for new students, encouraging them to make the most of their time here, with returning students promising to make Eastern a safe and welcoming place, and with many of Eastern’s musical ensembles and groups performing an arrangement of “The Blessing” put together by student Josh Guenther. Though Convocation wasn’t held in person this school year, it was a positive start to the semester and a reminder that we are to love one another and grow with each other as the year progresses.