First-years Encouraged to Ask “Why” at Convocation
By Benjamin Pontz, Managing News Editor
Under clear skies and amid less heat than earlier in the week, the 728 students who comprise the Class of 2021 along with 10 transfer students gathered before Beachem Portico to officially matriculate as Gettysburg College students in the 186th Opening Convocation ceremony.
After the faculty processional, Dr. Kristin Largen, Associate Dean of Religious & Spiritual Life and College Chaplain, offered an invocation, Dr. Christopher Zappe, Provost, delivered opening remarks, and Gail Sweezey, Director of Admissions, officially presented the incoming class to the faculty.
Dr. McKinley Melton, Assistant Professor of English, took the podium as the keynote speaker. He discussed the importance of asking “why,” juxtaposing the boundless curiosity of toddlers with the lack of “coolness” in exposing the vulnerability of not knowing. He urged the incoming class to be just as intellectually curious as they once were by committing to “rediscover the power and potential of the word ‘why.’”
On the heels of a violent protest by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one person was killed after a man drove his car through a crowded street, Melton said that the incident reminds us that “college campuses are often more ideological background than idyllic bubble.”
“The images that came to us from Charlottesville in particular evidence the necessity of why and the need to critically interrogate the motivations for such acts of domestic terrorism, to question the narratives that emerge in response, to ask ourselves why we collectively continue to embrace such simplified stories of heroes, victims and villains, to ask why we become so comfortable with how consistently we cast the roles.” he said. “Why do we cling so stubbornly to a past that has never proven true? Why do we commit monuments and memorials to the myths of who we were, refuse the reality of who we are, and bind ourselves from becoming what we have the potential to be?”
Melton charged the Class of 2021 to become uncomfortable by engaging in debate that is “equal parts respectful and fearless” and not to be afraid of changing an ideological position if confronted with evidence or logic to the contrary.
“In a world like this,” he said, “intellectual dexterity is greatly to be praised.”
Orientation coordinator then Jessica Hubert shared reflections from her time at Gettysburg and urged students to help push the college’s quest towards equality and justice forward.
After President Janet Morgan Riggs encouraged students to be mindful of their surroundings and intentional in their interactions — framing her remarks around a quote from David Foster Wallace about fish in water, senior Rick Hale led the Class of 2021 in singing the Alma Mater, his soaring vibrato enveloping the surrounding area.
With that, the incoming first-year students processed through Penn Hall, symbolically becoming members of the campus community, and headed on to begin the rest of their Orientation experience.