Opening Convocation starts Centre year
September 1, 2011 By Diane Fisher Johnson, College Editor
Williams spoke on the value of paying attention, saying that she
believes poetry encourages focus. “What you pay attention to
will determine who you are,” she said.
At the Opening Convocation on Sunday, chemistry professor
Jeff Fieberg (above right, giving a science demonstration)
inhaled sulfur hexafluoride before his address to lower the pitch
of his voice.
Faculty in their colorful academic regalia processed across Centre’s campus last Sunday, Aug. 28, with the 375 first-year students for Opening Convocation, the annual ceremony that marks the official start to the academic year. It is one of three convocations that bring the entire college together. (The others are Founders Day in January and Honors Convocation in May.)
The Class of 2015 is the largest in Centre history and helped boost enrollment above 1,300, also the largest in Centre history.
Lisa Williams, N.E.H. Associate Professor of English and an award-winning poet, explained the value of poetry as the first of two faculty speakers for the event.
“Great poems do more than tell you what to do, or what to think,” she said. “They are more intense — in a good way — than giving instruction or handing you a truism on a platter. A poem draws you, the reader, forward, into soulful activity. Into a dialogue of thought and feeling. The writer and the reader are connecting, are thinking toward one another. To think toward one another, to think in the direction of another human, is vital. We need everything we can to help us do it.”
Later she called on her audience to consider the value of “paying attention,” explaining how she believes poetry encourages focus.
“What you pay attention to will shape you, it will form you, it will in some ways determine who you are,” she said. “Reading a poem is good practice for that. For paying attention not only to words and what words actually “say,” but to what’s unsaid; for a poem is also made up of what it doesn’t say, just as a person is. There’s a whole richness of communication around the words. That’s what poets try to get at.”
Jeff Fieberg, an associate professor of chemistry known for exploding hydrogen balloons, began his address by assuring the dean that he would “not blow anything up.” Instead he used a small blue balloon filled with sulfur hexafluoride to dramatically lower the pitch of his voice.
“Surprise!” he said. “Life is full of surprises. That was not hydrogen or helium.”
Fieberg used his own experience as a Centre undergraduate and chemist to illustrate his remarks.
“How did I wind up as a chemistry professor, performing collaborative research with Centre’s religion program to unroll and date ancient amulets, and teaching a course on “Chemistry in Art” in London even though in high school, I never took an art history or studio art course?” he asked. “The awesome thing is that it all began at this magical place — I was transformed by surprises while navigating sidebars, those academic experiences that do not directly count toward your major or career goal.”
In his case, the humanities courses required of all first-years exposed him to a wide spectrum of art. As a senior, he studied art, architecture and music in Paris, Florence, Munich and Amsterdam.
Noting that many in the audience might think art and chemistry have zero overlap, he said: “Guess what—for those of you who despise science in general, and chemistry in particular, I’ll let you in on a little secret: chemistry is everywhere.”
He ended his talk with a charge to the Class of 2015: “At Centre, you will be transformed in ways you cannot even imagine at this moment,” he said. “[A]s you construct your webpage, prepare to light up the full spectrum of your mind, get ready to splash some paint onto your canvas, and embrace those sidebar surprises, because you never know where they may take you!”
In addition to the faculty addresses, Vince DiMartino, Matton Professor of Music and an internationally celebrated trumpeter, performed “Trumpet Solo: Aria” by 20th-century Belgian composer Flor Peeters.
Brian Klosterboer ’12, Student Government Association president, presented the motto chosen by the Class of 2015: “Promise me you’ll always remember: you are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think,” from A.A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh.”
The class mottos are engraved on a plaque that hangs in the library.
Fall term classes at Centre began Monday.
To read Lisa Williams' remarks, “Gifts to the Attentive,” click here.
To read Jeff Fieberg’s remarks, “Sidebar Surprises,” click here.
To read Brian Klosterboer ’12’s charge to the Class of 2015, click here.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 24th among all the nation's colleges and universities and has named Centre No. 1 among all institutions of higher education in the South for two years in a row. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, click here.