On Sept. 24, the College held a virtual convocation to recognize the milestone achieved by senior students and, as President Sarah Bolton stated, “To set our intentions for the year ahead.” Three student leaders — Catera Clark ’21, Olivia Proe ’21 and Yuta Nitanai ’21 — addressed the college community in the event, touching on a range of topics such as being a global citizen, fighting injustice and graduating during a pandemic.
In addition, the convocation also celebrated the promotion of several faculty members. Provost Lisa Perfetti announced the names of eight faculty members who were promoted to full professor effective this year. Likewise, two members were promoted to associate professor with tenure and Jacob Heil was promoted to Librarian II.
Interim Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Erin Guzmán welcomed the audience as she set the spirit for the event. “We know that this will be a different and difficult school year,” Guzmán said. “Despite the challenges we have already faced and the hurdles stretched out ahead, may we do all we can to remember what has brought us here and let it keep us from slipping into apathy.”
She emphasized, “May we be pushed to place compassion and kindness to the top of our collective values, for we can never truly know what our neighbors carry each day.”
Bolton’s address in the event echoed Guzmán’s sentiment. “We face a set of complex interlocking challenges and injustices,” she said. “So, as we gather to start our year, we are called to ask how we will respond individually and as a college.” She also stressed on the need to act for change. “We need to do much more than to just go back to the time before the pandemic, because Black lives matter. We need to move ahead; we need to become a more just and a more humane society, one that ensures safety and dignity for everyone.”
Bolton urged students to consider what they will choose to do with the time that they have as students at the College. “Who will you listen to?” she asked. “What will you seek to learn and understand? What change do you want to create and what action will you take to move towards it?”
The speeches by Clark, Proe and Nitanai answered Bolton’s questions, as they highlighted the importance of learning together, fighting injustice and being kind. While the speakers’ topics of discussion were different, all of them tied their messages to their experiences on campus and shared the common themes.
“Four years ago, I would not have imagined the amount of knowledge, experience and growth I would gain during my time here at Wooster,” Clark said, recalling her past three years at the College. “From my classrooms to my weekly student organization meetings, I have learned that basically everything the K-12 public school system teaches us is a censored whitewashed lie.”
“Along with my increased knowledge has come some pretty valuable experiences,” she continued. “I have been able to travel and occupy spaces I didn’t really even know existed let alone I could rightfully be a part of.”
The president of the Black Students Association also highlighted how being at the College helped her embrace her identity as a Black person. “I feel like at home it’s easy to get stuck in a bubble and in that bubble, there is no room for growth or change,” Clark explained. “But being able to connect with people from across the country and globe has given me so many beautiful examples of what it means to be a strong, unapologetic Black person.”
She then turned her attention to the racial injustice in the United States and the resilience of people of color in fighting such injustices. “Black and Brown lives are subject to death and inhumane actions on a daily basis in this country,” she announced. “Once again, much like our elders, we have brought our voices together as a community to call for action and real change where it has never been before: in our police and government structures.”
Clark concluded her speech with a message for students to recognize their ability to bring change. “We have the power, knowledge and grind to turn this entire country upside down for the better,” she said. “We all carry the privilege of higher education and with all the knowledge, experience and growth we have obtained in these four years, we also gain a power to stand together and create change in a country that we all can actually feel safe to exist in.”
Like Clark, Proe, president of Scot Council, also highlighted the importance of being together as a community. Her speech revolved around an experience she had shared with the Class of 2021 during her first year while watching a solar eclipse. “We all gasped when it suddenly got dark, and once the shadow passed, we dispersed as quickly as we had come together.” She then recalled her recent discovery that an eclipse signified difficult times.
“However, [the eclipse also] promised eventual prosperity and times even better than before,” Proe noted with positivity before connecting that experience to the seniors’ current situation. “We’re all huddled in this shadow, waiting for it to pass just as we did three years ago. It’s hard to say what the next few months will hold. While many of us are looking towards the future, no doubt with anxiety, I hope we can find small moments of relief in knowing that we’re here for each other.”
She concluded, “I look forward to standing with you as the shadow passes and may we all stand together in brighter times once again.”
Nitanai, the president of the International Student Association and the last speaker, also emphasized the importance of learning together and from one another.
“It is a privilege to live, learn and grow in [the College] community, but it is up to us whether or not we make Wooster a truly global learning community,” Nitanai said. “There are many learning opportunities hidden in your daily lives. It is your choice whether you explore outside your comfort zone at Wooster or not. Be open to the global learning community, be open to the international learning experience and new experiences. Seek them out and make the most out of your four years at Wooster.”
Nitanai concluded his speech urging students to engage with diverse groups of people. “The place where we are born does not dictate who we are, where we can go or what we can become,” he pointed out. “I urge you to not be content with just receiving your degree but to be an active participant in this global community.”
As the event came to a close, the intention that Bolton had mentioned in her email had become clear as all of the speakers urged the College community to learn from one another and stand up against injustice.