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First Convo Gets BC ''Ready to Go''

When students entered Phelps-Stokes expecting the typical lecture, it was clear that the convocation would be different than those in years past.

President Shinn and bell hooks converse openly about a wide range of topics.

"I love you Larry Shinn!" shouted a student sitting in the balcony as the President took the stage in Phelps Stokes for the first Convocation of the fall semester. President Shinn graciously replied with a bit of a laugh, "I love you too." Shinn went on to introduce the opening speaker, Alexander Gibson, the new Student Government Association (SGA) president.

Gibson's speech called out to students, urging them to help change Berea College. "Students have a hand in every aspect of the college and that's through student government,” said Gibson.

Gibson also recalled a challenge presented to him by President Shinn years ago: a challenge to live upstream and to think broader than his past. Turning the tables on President Shinn, Gibson issued his own challenge, saying, "I'm going to challenge you to listen to student concerns as you always have with an open heart and a steady hand."

Gibson concluded his speech by initiating a call and response method that had been used on a campaign stop for a Presidential candidate. Soon the audience was “fired up” and “ready to go.” Students became abuzz with excitement as they eagerly waited to see and hear what President Shinn had up his sleeve.

President Shinn remained seated as he let the audience know that this particular convocation would be different from those in the past. Instead of giving a typical lecture, he was going to sit down with author and professor bell hooks and have a conversation concerning sustainability, which he hoped would grant some insight into Berea’s plan for sustainability for the years to come.

He began with a speech about Easter Island, discussing the overall meaning of the location in relation to Berea College and its mission. Referring to author Jared Diamond, President Shinn quoted him reverently by saying, "Earth is Easter Island."

During their discussion, hooks and President Shinn touched on a variety of topics from politics to religion but they all fell within the range of how to create a functional sustainable community. hooks reiterated the importance of a sustainable future on campus and in the world by reinforcing the idea "Responsibility begins with sustainability."

President Shinn also gave insight to the new subcommittee that is being put into action. This new faculty and student formed subcommittee will evaluate practiced sustainability methods across campus concerning classes, behavior in residence halls, transportation, endowment investment, and the institution as a whole.

Near the end of the convocation, hooks asked, "How can we have difference and have conflict and yet sustain community?" Ironically, the answer to this conundrum was hinted at by the exchange between President Shinn and his “fan” at the beginning of the convocation—the reciprocation of love between all human beings, the environment, and a commitment to peace.

Like all other opening convocations, President Shinn had professor of music, Dr. Stephen Bolster lead the Berea College alma mater, “Berea Beloved.” Shinn offered up one last pearl of wisdom, saying, "It's really about trying to figure out how we in our own way, in our own religious or our own spiritual traditions, become peaceful within, because then you're able to listen without fear to people who disagree with you or who are different from you."

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