Every year in the final throws of the D.C. summer, faculty members don academic regalia and march into Lisner Auditorium for what usually proves to be an unremarkable ceremony. This year things were different. The faculty still arrived dressed to the nines, but interminable speeches were largely replaced with a lively panel discussion on the current presidential race.
In short, Convocation was a rousing success. Administrators traded in a traditionally mundane ceremony for an event that students were genuinely interested in. This Convocation boasted the highest attendance in recent memory, drawn by promises of an address by new GW faculty member Helen Thomas and the discussion that followed. GW’s academic affairs officials deserve congratulations for sparking interest in a ceremony that has in the past been rather dull.
Everything was not entirely perfect, however. Students flocked to hear Thomas speak, but were disappointed by the brevity of her address. In fact, quite a few students justifiably felt frustrated by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s introduction, which lasted almost as long as Thomas’ remarks.
Also, the discussion lacked student participation. As with many GW events, the speakers ran over their time allotments, eliminating the opportunity for questions. GW must be wary of excluding students. If they are ignored, most will not come.
But some will show up no matter what. Protesters congregated at the event in what has become a GW tradition. Students attempting to attract attention to causes as diverse as recycling, sweatshops and everything in between have become fixtures at campus events.
Then there is the innate contradiction inherent in canceling classes in order to hold an academic assembly. Everyone acknowledges that in order to encourage attendance for Convocation the ceremony must be held when most students are on campus. But, the primary mission of the University is to educate students through class.
At least this year, students were able to benefit from a lively discussion of an important national issue. With an intellectually stimulating discussion of important events, remarks from one of America’s premier journalists and students exercising their right to publicly dissent, this event was a perfect example of learning opportunities outside the classroom.