Campus News & Events

Resor Delivering 6 Lectures to Petroleum Geoscientists in Australia

Associate Professor Phil Resor is delivering six lectures in Australia this June.

Associate Professor Phil Resor is delivering six lectures in Australia this June. He is the 2014 AAPG Distinguished Lecturer.

Philip Resor, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is taking his knowledge of petroleum down under.

Between June 18-26, Resor, a Distinguished Lecturer for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), is delivering six lectures in Australia. The talks are geared toward members of the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) and a general petroleum industry audience.

Phil Resor at a talk in Melbourne.

Phil Resor at a talk in Melbourne.

While abroad, Resor will speak on “Syndepositional Faulting of Carbonate Platforms” and “Revisiting the Origin of Reverse Drag.”

He’ll be lecturing in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra.

A specialist in structural geology, Resor’s work integrates field mapping, remote sensing, and numerical modeling to better understand the mechanics of faulting. Recent projects have focused on the causes of syndepositional faulting in carbonate platforms, deformation around normal faults, folding on Venus, and the effects of fault zone geometry on earthquake slip.

Prior to joining the faculty at Wesleyan, Resor worked for several years as an exploration geologist in the oil and gas industry.

sydney

Phil Resor in Sydney.

Singer ’15 to Study Moon Rocks as Connecticut Space Grant Fellow

Jack Singer '15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon.

Jack Singer ’15 holds a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12039,3), a crucial sample for studying his mineral of interest — apatite — on the moon. This summer, Singer received a Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium grant to fund his summer research in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

As a recent recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship, Jack Singer ’15 is spending his summer at Wesleyan studying the geochemical evolution of the moon. 

The fellowship, supported by the Connecticut Space Grant College Consortium, comes with a $5,000 award. Grantees are expected to work on research related to space/aerospace science or engineering under the guidance of a faculty member or a mentor from industry.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan's Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a Lunar sample.

By using a microscope in Wesleyan’s Solar Systems Geochemistry Lab, Jack Singer takes a closer look at a lunar sample.

For the next three months, Singer will work on various research projects with his advisor James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental science. Singer will first prepare a fragmented lunar sample (Apollo 12035,76) for analysis under an ion microprobe. An ion microprobe applies a beam of charged ions to the sample and helps determine the composition of the material.

This rock contains olivine, a mineral that is mysteriously sparse in many different lunar samples.

“By analyzing the melt inclusions contained within olivine in this rock, I’ll be able to better understand geochemical evolution of the moon,” Singer said.

Singer’s second project is more experimental. He’s attempting to model and quantify diffusion in a late-stage lunar environment (one of the last regions to cool on the moon) by synthesizing a granite-rich model lunar glass.

Singer will heat this glass past its melting point and place it in contact with solid terrestrial apatite — the Moon’s major water-bearing mineral — and measure how elements diffuse across the glass-grain (or solid-liquid) boundary.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

Jack Singer and his advisor, James Greenwood, will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This type of analysis helps us to better understand the processes that occurred during the last stages of lunar cooling,” he explained.

In addition, Singer and Greenwood will travel to Japan this summer to use an ion microprobe at Hokkaido University.

“This machine allows us to analyze and measure stable isotope ratios in the minerals we are interested in, and can therefore tell us something about the fractionation and geochemical history of the lunar body,” Singer said.

Next fall, Singer will write about his research findings.

Army Veteran Olivieri to Join Class of 2018 through Posse Foundation

Andrew Olivieri

Andrew Olivieri

In the fall of 2008, Andrew Olivieri felt like he was staring down four years of uncertainty, dissatisfaction and “wasting my parents’ money.” A senior at the Bronx High School of Science, where most graduates are expected to attend college, Olivieri just didn’t feel ready.

But the Army life had always attracted him, as a path that led to maturity, a work ethic, and an opportunity to be part of something larger than himself.

“I wanted to be a part of history, and contribute to it,” Olivieri said. “I never wanted to be one of those people who just say, ‘Oh, I thought about joining the military.’ I thought I should just do it.”

Soon Olivieri was starting what would be the first of four deployments with the Army Rangers, including many months in Afghanistan and half a year in Farsi language immersion, which “helped me understand a culture that I only knew through war,” he said. His last experiences in the Army, working with Afghan commandos, were deeply enriched by his working knowledge of their language.

In September, Olivieri’s next big adventure begins: as a Wesleyan freshman. He’ll be in Wesleyan’s first group of 10 U.S. military veterans on campus through the Posse Foundation.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “The student community seems very active, and that’s what I’m looking for. I want to share my experience in an environment where people are willing to listen and willing to share their lives with me.”

As he neared the end of his military service, a family friend recommended Olivieri to Posse, and he applied, seeking a school where he could explore what had become a passion for him in the military: international relations. “Wesleyan seemed perfect,” he said.

Now 22, he’ll join nine other military veterans in the Class of 2018. This is the inaugural year for Posse at Wesleyan; the university hopes to add 10 veterans per class for the next three years.

Posse is one of five programs the university is highlighting June 15-21, as Access2Wes week celebrates diversity and inclusion at Wesleyan. During this week, alumni and friends can support these programs, which also include A Better Chance, Prep for Prep, QuestBridge and the Freeman Asian Scholars, with their gift through the Wesleyan Fund.

#THISISWHY

ICPP Offers New Masters Degree in Performance Curation

wo-year low residency MA program to begin in summer of 2015; Existing pilot ten-month Certificate Program in Performance Curation also made permanent.

Wesleyan will offer a new, two-year low residency MA program through the Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP).

Next summer, Wesleyan’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance (ICPP) will offer a new Master of Arts in Performance Curation degree program, in addition to the permanent establishment of the Certificate Program in Performance Curation.

The Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance was founded in 2010, and introduced as a pilot initiative in 2011, by Wesleyan graduates Samuel Miller ’75 and Pamela Tatge, director of the Center for the Arts, in partnership with Judy Hussie-Taylor and New York’s Danspace Project. ICPP is the first institute of its kind, a center for the academic study of the presentation and contextualization of contemporary performance. Distinct from graduate programs in Curatorial Studies, Arts Administration, Performance Studies, and the Humanities, ICPP offers its students a graduate-level education in innovative and relevant curatorial approaches to developing and presenting time-based art.

The new MA is a two-year, low residency program that can be pursued concurrently with one’s existing professional responsibilities.

2 Faculty to Receive Tenure, 5 Promoted to Full Professor

The Board of Trustees recently conferred tenure to two Wesleyan faculty and promoted five faculty to full professor. Their promotions take effect July 1.

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor

Victoria Pitts-Taylor, professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, will receive tenure. Pitts-Taylor will join Wesleyan as a new faculty members and chair of the FGSS program on the same date.

They join four other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

Those promoted to full professor are Martha Gilmore, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Yuri Kordonsky, professor of theater; James Lipton, professor of mathematics and computer sciences; Brian Stewart, professor of physics; and Greg Voth, professor of physics.

Brief descriptions of their areas of research and teaching are below:

Pitts-Taylor will offer courses in feminist science studies, gender theory, and interdisciplinary body studies.

Trustees, Roth Discussing the Future of Wesleyan Fraternities

The Board of Trustees has asked President Michael Roth to propose a plan for the future of fraternities at Wesleyan, following a discussion at their spring meeting May 22-23.

On his blog, Roth said he would deliver a plan to the board soon, ideally before the start of the next semester but at the latest before the next board meeting in November. His thinking has changed since his first year at Wesleyan, when he wrote about his support for Greek life, Roth said.

“Six years of hearing about high-risk drinking at fraternities and dealing with fallout from highly publicized incidents of sexual violence have had an effect,” he wrote in a blog post this week. “ Of course, the larger world has changed too. Today there’s more emphasis upon Title IX and a much greater awareness of sexual assault. The U.S. Department of Education says that under Title IX, schools must “take prompt and effective steps reasonably calculated to end the sexual violence, eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects.”

Roth cited a WSA survey showing that 47 percent of Wesleyan students feel less safe in fraternity houses than in other party spaces; the great majority of those think that making the fraternities co-educational would be helpful in making those spaces safer.

“Are fraternities at Wesleyan hostile environments?

College of Integrative Sciences to Offer Researched-Based Approach to Learning Science

Beginning next year, students majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics will have the option to pursue a cross-disciplinary, research-based course of study through the new College of Integrative Sciences (CIS), which was approved by the faculty on May 21.

According to a proposal for the new College developed by Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Ishita Mukerji in consultation with faculty colleagues: “CIS aims to be an intellectual home for students interested in exploration at the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for students of all disciplines who are interested by a research-based approach to learning science.”

Mukerji, who is also director of technology initiatives and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, added: “The College builds on the idea that tomorrow’s scientists will face challenging problems in the diverse areas of energy, public health, the environment, among others, that will require a broad knowledge base, and a synthesis of different research methodologies and creative problem solving skills. Thus, a key feature of the CIS is the integration of different fields to address complex problems.”

THIS IS WHY Labeled on Foss Hill for Reunion & Commencement Weekend

University Communications, University Relations and Physical Plant collaborated on a "WESLEYAN. THIS IS WHY." graphic installation May 20-21 in preparation for Reunion & Commencement Weekend.

University Communications, University Relations and Physical Plant collaborated on a “WESLEYAN. THIS IS WHY.” graphic installation May 20-21 in preparation for Reunion & Commencement Weekend.

Antique Van Vleck Refractor Telescope to Get a Facelift

Wesleyan's 20-inch refractor telescope, located inside the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill, will undergo renovations for the next 15 months. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Wesleyan’s 20-inch refractor telescope, located inside the Van Vleck Observatory on Foss Hill, will undergo renovations for the next 15 months. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

Beginning June 2, the nearly century-old 20-inch Van Vleck Refractor, which lives on Foss Hill in its iconic dome, will get a complete facelift to return it to full working order. The rare historic telescope will be dismantled, cleaned, repaired, reassembled and modernized over a period of about 15 months in preparation of the observatory centennial in 2016. (View several photos of the renovation here.)

The work will be done by Fred Orthlieb, Ph.D. and Chris Ray, members of the Antique Telescope Society who run a company called Ray Museum Studios. Based in Swarthmore, Penn., they are well-regarded experts in the highly-specialized field of antique telescope restoration; Orthlieb is the Isaiah V. Williamson Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at Swarthmore College.

Bennett, Scott Receive Cardinal Achievement Awards

Nicola Bennett, administrative assistant in the Office of University Relations, and Lorna Scott, assistant to the vice president for student affairs, received a Cardinal Achievement Award in May.

Nicola Bennett

Nicola Bennett

Bennett was acknowledged for her efforts in supporting the 50th Reunion. According to her award announcement, “Bennett played a vital role in the development and production of this year’s 50th Reunion Class Book. Her creativity and organization skills, coupled with her eagerness to take on a new challenge, made this project a huge success. The Class of 1964 and University Relations are very fortunate to benefit from her great work.”

Lorna Scott

Lorna Scott

Scott was honored for her efforts in gathering data from the files of several hundred students related to their decisions to leave Wesleyan. This data provided critical information to staff in the Institutional Research area in time for them to analyze the data for the Retention Committee.

This special honor comes with a $150 award and reflects the university’s gratitude for those extra efforts. The award recipients are nominated by department chairs and supervisors. Nominations can be made anytime throughout the year.

For more information or to nominate a staff member for the award, visit the Human Resources website and scroll down to Cardinal Achievement Award under “Forms.”

Recipients will continue to be recognized in News@Wesleyan.

Krugman, Cash, Carter Deliver “Senior Voices” Addresses

Joshua Krugman ’14, Megan Cash ’14, and Prince Carter ’14 delivered “Senior Voices” speeches on May 24 in Memorial Chapel. Below is the text of Krugman’s and Cash’s speeches; Carter’s was unavailable at the time of publication.

Joshua Krugman

When I got to Wesleyan I thought I could get everything I needed out of the world on my own and by my own effort if I worked hard enough. I enrolled in six classes. Every day after class I would go to the practice rooms to play the piano. Then I would walk back to my single in Butt B to study for the afternoon. In the evening I gave myself exactly an hour to run, stretch, and shower, and an hour for dinner. Then I’d come back and pick up where I’d left off studying. At the end of the night I would write a poem or edit an existing one until I liked how it did what it wanted. This routine was exhausting and exhilarating. I was learning a lot. My grades were flawless. I was lonely. If someone from a class expressed interest in talking with me I would suggest we meet for dinner: that was the only place for improvisatory talking and relationship in my schedule. A few nights a week, dionysian revelers passed below my window scattering to or from the courtyard known as the Butthole. I watched their jubilant transits with a mixture of distain and longing.

One Sunday morning midway through freshpeople fall I was meeting with a discussion group from my Philosophy class on Justice and Reason with Joe Rouse. We were talking about the “prudent shopkeeper” from Emmanuel Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, who may be honest and fair to her customers either out of ethical conviction or out of self-interested concern for the future of her shop—or, more likely, an indeterminable mixture of ethics and self-interest. To an observer, and even to the shopkeeper herself, it is impossible to know how much she acts from genuine reverence for ethics or from self-interest. We entertained the question: does one ever act only out of moral feeling? Does the pleasure one gets from satisfying moral feeling count as self-interest? We were really trying to figure it out. Near the end of our discussion, Steve, one of the people in our group, got up apologetically, explaining that he was going to cook food with Middletown Food Not Bombs, an anarchist group in town that puts on a free community meal every Sunday on the sidewalk on the North end of Main Street. The meal is made out of food that’s blemished or past its date in the supermarket, that hasn’t sold at restaurants, or that isn’t pretty enough but is still delicious at local farms. Steve invited us to come with him, today or another Sunday, but in the context of all this talk of morals the invitation sounded like a challenge.

The next Sunday I took up what I thought his challenge was, and went to cook with Food Not Bombs. I was put to work immediately. I sorted through blotched and sometimes mushy pears for a baked fruit crisp. Then it was chopping the woody ends off ever-so slightly limp asparagus and arranging it on trays for roasting. How should I flavor it? “The spices are in the tall cabinet. Follow your heart!” was the instruction. I didn’t know what anarchism was then, but everyone seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Dan at the soup pot would taste it every few minutes and whoop with pleasure. Abe upon opening the oven to check the roasting potato rounds hummed enthusiastically at the smell. McLaine added celery powder to a stir-fry with gleefully enigmatic flourishes. Mica sang phrases from a gospel song as she prepared a basket of unused vegetables that were in excellent condition to give away.

I’m gonna sit at the welcome table, 

Oh I’m gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days…

It was only later, in my room in Butt B attempting to catch up on my lost hours of study, that I remembered the Kantian challenge that had spurred me to go to Food Not Bombs in the first place. While I was there cooking with all those people I instantly admired, the individualistic language of ethical imperatives couldn’t have been further from my mind. Altogether accidentally, I had entered a community of work.

It wasn’t til a Saturday morning that spring that I finally made good on another invitation from acquaintances. I walked all the way down Long Lane past all the maple trees and the shuttered brick outbuildings of the defunct Long Lane School to the Long Lane Farm for their weekly community work day. When I walked through the open gate a woman named Charlotte introduced herself and said, “Do you want to rake a bed? Do you know how we rake our beds here at Long Lane?” I didn’t know what a bed was, and the only rakes I knew were for leaves, not soil. But she taught be how, and after she taught me, I set to work. When the next person arrived, she sent him me so that I could show him what she’d showed me. This struck me. Who was I to be teaching anyone, having just picked up a rake for the first time ten minutes ago? But by that simple act of asking me to teach a newcomer what I had just learned, Charlotte brought me into a community of shared knowledge and responsibility. It made me feel like a wholer person. I told the newcomer he should show the next person who arrived how to rake.

At first, my attitude of efficiency and goal-orientedness followed me in my work with Food Not Bombs and Long Lane Farm. I always had to have a knife in my hand in the kitchen or a spade or rake at the farm: I could never be idle. I would not hang around the water spigot ethologizing the squirrels, or discussing the use of Ivan Illich by the Zapatistas. When invited to parties or potlucks at houses of people who worked at the Farm or Food Not Bombs I would habitually demure, retreating to my cell in Butt B to pick up with my routine.

Sometime at the beginning of my junior year a new awareness dawned on me. I realized then that I had always thought of my highest responsibility in this work being for the project, and its results in all their specificity—the unburned pot of rice, the most productive planting of arugula with the best yield, whereas now I saw my highest responsibility as being to the people in the communities around the Farm and Food Not Bombs—how we nourished one another other with food, with work, with talk. The work at Food Not Bombs and Long Lane Farm was not for the sake of some successful outcome or goal met but for the sake of people. I saw that the most delicious meal or the most vigorous carrots didn’t mean much if we didn’t bother to understand and appreciate each other, if we didn’t all love to eat and work together. For the first time I began to understand community.

Recently some friends of mine and I planted a mulberry tree in the CFA courtyard in a ritual with singing and dancing, at the end of a class on Dance as Culture, with Nicole Stanton. During the ritual I was surprised to experience the presence of the big trees reaching and swaying over and behind me, the spreading grass around my feet, the cold smooth dirt on my hands as I filled in the soil around the new sapling, the body of the new sapling, and the circle of people rocking and stomping in song around me. Just yesterday, walking through the CFA, I saw the mulberry sapling far off and walked to it. I stood for ten minutes or so singing to it softly,

How art thou mulberry?

How art thou mulberry?…

marveling at the young tender sprouts of leaves and the green flowers already swelling and transforming into the beginnings of fruit. I know I should say something humorous here to subtly assure you that I’m aware how kooky this sounds. But whatever you think about the ditty I made up to talk to the young mulberry tree, the fact is that by spending time there with that tree a few times, and figuring out how to, I’ve discovered a bond of mutual attention and accountability between us, or maybe that there is a space of mutually created accountability and meaning that includes us both. This is the larger community of others we can recognize, nourish, and honor: the trees, the waters, the grasses, the soils, the winds.

Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet and intellectual, says that the path to the utopia is the utopia. We don’t need to worry about whether, in the end, we’ll successfully create the world we dream of: if we are going about making that world all along, then we are living in it all along. I’m becoming more and more convinced that the path to the utopia is to create and to nourish communities of human beings and others that support each other in open accountability, generosity, reciprocity, and mutual recognition. Long Lane Farm feeds local families, deer, students, bacteria, and others, and so creates and nourishes their relationships with each other, their ability to create a community together. It is to Wesleyan’s credit that it has created the space for such a project happen. Such work and such community are also possible in the real world, where we are supposedly going in two days. The kinds of production, agricultural and otherwise, that only aim to serve the interests of infinitesimally few human beings while exploiting and poisoning the rest have a powerful air of normality, necessity, and inevitability. But the secret is that the many oppressions capitalism organizes wither every moment when we create communities of eating, working, residing, healing, learning, and dancing that meet each one where they are, are sufficient to the becoming of each, and reflect the becoming of the others. The many oppressions capitalism organizes wither every moment when we make relationships of care and justice amongst ourselves in spite of the bureaucracies of business, government, and education that tempt us to think only of ourselves and our achievements. We are always living in the world that we’re creating, and no matter what anyone tells us we can choose what kind of people we want to be, what kind of work we want to do, what kind of world we create with our everyday work and our relationships. As we do this, so much depends that we learn to depend on each other.

 

Megan Cash

Just this month, I remembered how much I loved making documentary films at the tail end of high school, how I had visions of interviewing people and capturing those fleeting moments. I would jump on my bicycle and ride everywhere in town looking for a great story, and if I couldn’t find one, I would make one, cast a couple of actors, and film it with my IPod. Coming to Wesleyan, a school renowned for film analysis, I felt intimidated showing my short films with wobbly IPod camerawork and awkward editing, my lengthy screenplays with monologue after monologue and scant stage directions, but I was eventually able to figure out how to steady the camera, how to edit a brief documentary for this year’s movie festival, and how to write in a format people will actually listen to. It’s a mystery to me why we move away from previous passions and pick up others instead- I’ve noticed that many friends, from national chess players to state champion swing dancers, gradually drifted away from their passions and skills in high school after they got to Wesleyan, perhaps out of an urge to recreate themselves for college or a yearning to try something new. For me, carving out a niche meant remembering where I started, and perhaps I was right at the beginning.

If you saw me freshman year, power walking between biology classes, queen of the masochists, on my desperate quest for medical school, you would understand the capacity of people to live accidentally and through a life of tunnel vision. Somehow my one-track-minded medical school goal served as an automatic excuse for cutting life-changing conversations short, for turning down adventures and dropping classes on which I could have unleashed my full creative potential and heaven forbid tweaked my life plan. From an early age I frequently mapped out my life, stayed up until two in the morning as a twelve year old debating whether or not I should be a psychology professor later in life before retiring. I used to believe that a life of completely masochistic sacrifice was valid as long as I was helping people, until I asked myself, “How much can I help people if I’m completely miserable? Is there a balance here?” I remember the day in my room when I told myself, “You know, Megan, you don’t have to go to medical school,” and felt my shoulders mysteriously drop as if I had been carrying a heavy invisible backpack and finally put it down, finally stopped playing “school.”

The fear that accompanied having so many choices at Wesleyan woke me up to where I was blindly headed before: a life lived on autopilot. New worlds were opening up to me when I opened up to learning. I learned to search for the universal value in every class: art history gave me a mastery over analyzing any image and rationally articulating my intuitions about it, playwriting helped me fill in my previously scant stage directions from the skits and plays I wrote in high school, philosophy and film drove me to start a blog on how Nietzsche’s writings can help you declutter your house (or at least I wrote that one post for that blog), and then I took Introduction to Buddhism, the class that finally broke my self-destructive masochism streak. Jan Willis’ class empowered me to finally stare uncertainty in the face and learn to embrace it, for up to that point, I had searched for tracks, tracks to follow in thinking, in life, and in learning.

True learning is painful when you find your own fears and sorrows explained to you by books, previously your sources of refuge, advice, and hope for dealing with the pain of the world. I recall the day it dawned on me that the low-income students I had been analyzing in my sociology class were actually me and my friends, the unsettling shift from, “low-income students” to “as a low-income student” in class discussions, reading statistics about the chances of first-generation college students graduating from college- eleven percent at the time- and fixating on this until I felt myself alienated and felt myself blocking out what I was learning in order to protect myself emotionally and psychologically. I’ve learned that true learning inspires more questions than answers to the world’s problems- each class builds on the previous one until the gaps in knowledge from the first class dwindle- so I took a statistics class, and realized statistics is a much more human activity than I first realized. Stereotype threat and the dropout rates that haunted me started to lose their power over me when I realized that not all circumstances are the same- some people drop out because they max out their student loan amounts, some people drop out because they don’t feel connected to their peers or they need time to experience the world first, and some people drop out because the structured, critically objective learning that takes place here isn’t what they need. I realized that learning deeply and vulnerably means respecting the complexity of the world and the nuances of human life, but this cannot be completely understood through the sometimes suffocating lens of hyper-rationality and objective logic- you have to find a way to feel the past, to feel what humans have created and what they have tried and how they have failed.

I wonder about the length of college, for after four years, I’ve felt I’ve done the best I could to learn as much as I could from Wesleyan, although I feel we all have our regrets about what we have not tried- I wish I had gotten more involved in dancing and in farming. I used to constantly map out my schedule of classes, switching back and forth between “Data Analysis,” or “Descriptive Astronomy,” but these odd rituals never truly helped me find peace with regret and scarcity, either scarcity of time to try every class or time to be the “ideal” engaged “Wesleyan student:” we cannot try everything in life. But on a serious note, I’ve understood where this anxiety to plan comes from: a desire to restrict uncertainty. We’ve all felt the full gust of uncertainty, the excitement and panic and nostalgia that hits at odd moments of solitude in Pi Café or during our last physics lecture, our last poetry reading, or our last job shift, or last TA session or last Usdan dinner.  As we’ve lurched toward this constructed deadline of graduation and all of the strange societal expectations about it, we are entering a time where we can construct our own days.  We can continue on narrow career tracks if we wish, for some of us do know exactly what we want to do, but for many of us, especially with the potential upcoming technological innovations, the path won’t be linear. I can make documentary films about holistic health and medical discoveries. We have a choice in how we forge alliances, whether we choose humanity and empathy or money or both, and we have more power than we realize. We can choose to notice how theories of discrimination play out in our daily lives and choose to confront people on an honest and compassionate human level about how they are hurting us or others. We can treat each other with respect and the empathy we deserve, the empathy that helps us move forward.

Where do our dreams come from? Are they given to us, or do we make them, incorporating our experiences into a vision we have for ourselves day by day? We have felt the fluctuations of four years, and we owe it to ourselves to pay attention to how we are changing and what is happening around us. We can honor the potential in ourselves and the wisdom we glean from the spirits of others, whether they wake up early in the morning to volunteer or head to practice, stop to lend an ear to a friend at any time of day, or stay up all night poring over a project. I believe that many of us can and will carve out our own dreams, whether that involves growing a startup that increases employment opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, becoming an accomplished songwriter and playwright, or being a socially-conscious anarchist farmer. We can choose to resist repressing parts of ourselves in the assumption that we must specialize in the “Real World,” or that there is even a “Real World” completely separate from the struggles and triumphs we have encountered before. All of the great people who have ever lived were once human, once doubting, going off course and once changing directions. We must stay open- to opportunities, to change and self-reflection, and to each other. Thank you, class of 2014.

 

Mahurin Delivers “Senior Voices” Baccalaureate Address

Sarah Mahurin, visiting assistant professor of English, visiting assistant professor of African American studies, delivered the following baccalaureate address during the “Senior Voices” event on May 24:

Thank you all for inviting me to speak today.  I’m honored to spend a little more time with the class of 2014.

When I was asked to do this, I tried to find some literature about graduating college – as a source of inspiration, maybe a point of departure – and as it turns out, there’s not a lot out there.  Plenty about college – plenty about starting college, or about being in college – not so much about finishing it. I concluded, after I’d already agreed to this gig, that this might be because writing meaningfully about college graduation is almost impossible.

Part of the problem is a problem of originality. You’ve all already heard the same things: “This is not an ending, it’s a beginning… that’s why we call it commencement.” You’re opening multiple gift copies of Oh The Places You’ll Go – or maybe Lean In! For Graduates; and you’re getting fragments of that sunscreen speech or that kindness speech lifted from their sources and tossed at you in random bits, or “shared” with you on facebook.  You’re hearing You Did It!  You’re hearing We’re Proud of You.  You’re hearing And Now You Are Independent.

The thing is, all of that’s true – You did do it!  And it is a beginning in addition to an ending; and you will go places; and I hope you do lean in, in whatever way is most meaningful to you; and you should wear sunscreen; and we are very, very proud of you. The things people say in and around graduation ceremonies get said over and over because there is a real truth to them. But also, none of it feels entirely adequate to me right now. Especially the one about independence.

Now, don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot to be said for independence. And you’re all about to get a heaping dose of it. I don’t want to sound the same alarm of terror that’s already been going off in a lot of your heads, but the luxury of having hundreds of other folks who are in the same metaphorical boat as you – right across the hall, just down the road, sitting across the seminar table, lounging a few feet away on Foss – that’s an absolute gift, and a luxury. It’s one Wesleyan has provided for the past four years, and one you all know is about to be over. So telling you grandly that Now You Are Independent – might be an attempt to make a silk purse out of what’s pretty much a sow’s ear.

And anyhow, I think independence has its limits.  The Now You Are Independent train is coming for you all whether you want it or not.  So instead, I want to talk to you today about cultivating dependence, which sounds much less glamorous, and much less fit for shoving you off into the post-Wesleyan world, but is also, I think, just about the best advice I can give you.

I’m not talking about groupthink.  I’m not talking about cultural or ideological or geographical dependence, where everyone ends up in the same neighborhoods and votes for the same folks and posts and re-posts the same links on facebook.

Seriously, how many times have we all seen the video of Jay and Solange in the elevator?  Why do we keep taking Buzzfeed quizzes telling us where we’d have finished in the Hunger Games, or what breed of dog we are?  (…I’m a pit bull.)  And why do we believe anyone else is interested?  I’m not the first person to observe the ways in which social media’s promise of connection often falls short.

Because information isn’t connection.  Information isn’t community. Here’s how I know: none of you cares much that I’m a pit bull. If you’re interested at all, it’s largely because you’re wondering what that quiz would tell you about your dog self. So even when we push “share,” or get “shared” with – I’d say that often, there’s still a kind of individualism, and independence, at the heart of it.

(As a side note, one way to cultivate independence that seems actually meaningful to me is this: to read three things every day – on or offline – that were not recommended to you on facebook, and then to resist any urge to tell all your internet friends you’ve read them; to reclaim, three times a day, the privacy and individualism of readership. That is independence I can get behind.)

It’s true that one of the best things about Wesleyan and its culture is how intensively you all protect and celebrate your sense of individualism, and how that sense exists within and alongside the backdrop of community. It can look like Wesrave – which I’ve heard is pretty amazing – where folks are dancing to the same music even as they’re also separated from each other by their own personal headphone sets. Or it can look like students sharing long tables in Olin, breathing in and on each other, while they’re writing different papers about different subjects for different professors.

It can sound like, “Hey, you do you, I do me.”

You do you, I do me.  It’s an old story, and permutations of it getting told at graduation ceremonies all over the country.  Do you.  Make your way.  Blaze your trail.  Follow your dream.  Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps.

It sounds really good!; it’s extraordinarily tempting; it’s intensely American.  Our literature loves to tell this story: think of Ahab.  Think of Gatsby.  Think of Thomas Sutpen.  But here’s the thing about those guys.  Spoiler alert: they all die.  And spoiler alert number two: There’s an argument to be made, about all of these characters, that part of what kills them is their intense and single-minded individualism, even as that impulse is brought to bear within seemingly communal spaces.

A lot of you know already that I teach literature; and if you didn’t, the Ahab/Gatsby/Sutpen thing would have given it away.  Because I’m a literature professor, I do tend to approach the world through narrative, and to wonder how stories, and thinking about stories, can inform and enrich our immediate experiences.

But I also told you that there’s not a lot of literature about graduations.  So what I’d like to do now is tell you a story about my graduation.  Not my college graduation – my kindergarten graduation.

Part of my kindergarten graduation program involved all of us putting on little skits, little reenactments from fairy tales and other stories we’d read in class.  I was slated to perform a major role in a major production: The Three Little Pigs.  I was the third pig – you know, the wisest, best pig, the one who builds her house out of unassailable bricks and whose forward-thinking saves the day for her two pig friends.  The “houses” for all three of us were made of single sheets of plywood whose fronts had been painted to look like straw, sticks, and bricks; and the plywood was propped up by wooden frames that could be kicked over by the kid who played the wolf, when he huffed and he puffed and he blew the first two down.

It was a little bit of a punch line just now when I described this thing as a “major production”; but it also feels – true.  It was the biggest thing I’d ever done, and I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified for weeks beforehand. (This combination may sound familiar.) I was thrilled and terrified, and as a result I practiced being the third pig at home all the time.

On the day of the graduation, during my big moment, when the straw- and stick- layers were to run to me for refuge and I was to welcome them grandly onto the other side of my plywood and give my big soliloquy, something went wrong. My house fell over. Of course, this was not in the script. Everyone froze. None of us knew what to do. All three pigs, and the wolf, who suddenly looked not very big or bad – we all just stood there. We stood there and stared at the fallen house and said nothing, for what seemed like an hour but was probably only ten seconds.

And then my father, silently and very efficiently, rushed up out of the audience and onto the stage; he propped the house back up, and just as quickly and undramatically returned to his seat. He propped the house back up; I gave my big speech; the show went on. I remember it to this day as the best graduation I ever had.

Needing help is the worst. But getting help can be the best.  And getting the help you need without even asking is really the best. But for that to happen, you must forgo the bootstraps-pullup model. You must admit, and actively cultivate, a dependence that initially might make you cringe. Cultivating dependence is inconvenient, and difficult. It means cultivating a kind of uncoolness, and a sense of vulnerability – which sometimes, I think, can seem like the ultimate uncoolness – and all the potential for pain that comes along with that. Cultivating dependence means denying, in many moments, the exact kind of critical distance that I and other professors here have been training you to develop over the past four years.

Critical distance has its place.  Critical distance is a huge part of my job.  But another part of my job has to do with kinship networks, and the ways in which people talk to and about and around each other.  Part of my job today is to remind you that distance – like independence – is easier than it sounds.

Cultivate dependence, then, and before you have an immediate need for it.  Because there will be times, there will be times when your house will fall down.  There will be times when the house of the person sitting next to you will fall down.  It never happens when you think it will.  But you have to be paid up for when it does.

In the last couple pages of Toni Morrison’s great novel Song of Solomon, one of its heroines uses her last breaths to bid a magnificent, yearning farewell to the world she’s loved.

“I wish I’d a knowed more people,” she says.  Not bitterly, just reflectively.  “I would of loved ‘em all.  If I’d a knowed more, I would a loved more.”

Remember earlier, when I talked about the luxury and the gift of having hundreds of other folks, in the same boat as you, just a few doors or a few roads away? You’re not actually losing that. If you’re intentional about it, you have that all the time, just by living in the world, just by opening your eyes to your neighborhoods and the other people in them; just by riding the train or grabbing a coffee or standing in line at the grocery store – without doodling on your cell phone. Just by seeing. Just by speaking. Just by loving. Because the world will provide you almost infinite people and things to love. Wesleyan didn’t actually corner the market on that.

If you thought the takeaway of “I wish I’d a knowed more people” has to do with regret, or nostalgia about leavetaking, you’re only a little right. It has a lot more to do with the suffusion, the overrun, of possible people to love, the fact that you could never, in four years or four hundred, do all the meeting and knowing and loving that a place like Wesleyan – or Brooklyn, or Bowling Green, Kentucky, where I’m from – could actually support. There are people everywhere on whom to depend. There are people everywhere to love. There are people everywhere who will pick up your houses. Try to find them, try to know them, try to be them: and you will be yourself even better.

Congratulations, 2014.  I wish I’d a knowed all of you.