CONVOCATION (Invocation) 2020, August 31, 2020

Smith College acknowledges and appreciates the fact that our College is built within the ancestral homelands of the Nonotuck peoples. We also recognize our present-day neighboring indigenous nations: the Nipmuc and the Wampanoag to the East, the Mohegan, Pequot, and Narragansett to the South, the Mohican and Mohawk to the West, and the Abenaki to the North. Finally, we acknowledge and celebrate the presence of Indigenous people here among us today.

Convocation means to call together to begin – but we are not gathered.  We are scattered. Under normal circumstances you would be dressed weirdly and screaming indecipherably, and we would pretend to disapprove but actually delight in your revelry.

So instead I invite us to begin this year by gathering parts of ourselves we might wish to disavow: the fearful, the disappointed, the overwhelmed, the grieving.  Doing so will give way to hope, which will be the most important nutrient for the soil of this upcoming year. I invite us to gather close to one another, for what zoom deprives of us in physical proximity will require of us in authenticity and the commitment to intimacy.

Here is a snippet from a blog entry by adrienne maree brown, activist, author, and doula, called Telepathic Communion with Dino, a pretend interview with a dinosaur written at the time the COVID-19 pandemic took hold:

Brown says, I need something to control. A narrative… safetyI think I’ll become useless without meaning. There’s too much grief and fear right now… Dino says, can I tell you something about being sad and scared and still feeling hopeful? Hope, hopefulness, that’s the realm of the survivors. It’s not too late for y’all. Grief shows us what we love, what we most want to protect. It swallows everything extraneous. And so much of what you love is still here. And tomorrow is another miraculous opportunity to protect it, to change it.

Through this pandemic a miraculous opportunity has emerged: social disparities have been laid bare, racial justice finally is demonstrating its urgency, and the needs of an aching world are more evident than they have ever been.

If we look together at this aching world, we see the wild possibilities for good underneath. The structures that aren’t working can no longer be scaffolded, and we ourselves cannot afford to hide, pretend, or cover up who we can be to ourselves or one another. Indeed, like Dino says, everything besides this is extraneous. Our remote year might be the closest year we will ever have.

So let us gather in this authenticity, intimacy, and hope for this uncovering of a new world. Let us begin.

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