The True Meaning of Convocation

It's the most wonderful time of the year... the start of the academic year, that is. In the spirit of the season, my campus held three consecutive events for students, staff, and faculty this week: a State of the Campus Address, a Dean's Picnic, and our Convocation. We were fortunate enough to have the media cover each activity, giving the public we serve a nice glimpse of the welcoming efforts we undertake each year.

As you might expect, no one asked me to define and explain the campus address or the picnic. However, there were plenty of questions about our convocation, which got me to thinking about something I have long taken for granted as a member of academia. The dictionary definition of the word "convocation" typically states something about a group of people in a college or university that gather for some sort of ceremony. For some universities, convocation events surround graduation. At others, such as my own, the convocation focus is on welcoming activities. And yet, no matter at which point on the education timeline you place the event, the emphasis on the gathering itself does not seem to get at the essence of what a convocation event represents within the university community.

This reminds me a little bit of the animated television special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Throughout the episode, a number of Peanuts characters lament about the over-commercialization of the holiday, perhaps none more so than Charlie Brown himself, who at one point blurts out: "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" To which Linus replies with a monologue that includes scriptural references to the "good tidings of great joy" the holiday is meant to bring.

I bring this up because I believe therein lies the essence of our convocation efforts, although in a decidedly more secular sense. For the academic community, the good tidings of great joy surround the welcoming activities for the incoming freshmen and/or the capstone celebrations for the graduating seniors. To wit, it is really all about our recognition of the scholarly circle of life. One comes in, another goes out.

We celebrate these entrances and exits because students are our lifeblood. The incoming freshmen class comes in with great potential to learn and to grow, to expand their sense of individuality alongside an expanding set of experiences that center on a sense of belonging to their alma mater. In turn, the graduating seniors go out with great potential to demonstrate the skill sets they have developed, to advance their career aspirations while concurrently making important contributions back to society writ large.

As members of the academic community, we stand in awe of this process. And that's the true meaning of convocation, Charlie Brown.

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