We mustn’t forget that we’re (ostensibly) at Grinnell to study. We’re typically allowed to enroll in a maximum of four fourcredit courses each semester (with special dispensation, you can extend this to five four-credit courses). But our academic experiences needn’t be restricted to classes, even though our grades may be. There are many avenues to explore over and above what’s taught in the classroom.
One of the hallmarks of Grinnell College is the Scholars’ Convocation, held at 11 a.m. on Thursdays (a time when no classes meet) several times each semester. George Drake ’56 established convocation during his term as president of the College (Drake is now professor emeritus of history). Convocation speakers may be a member of the campus community, or they may be visitors to Grinnell. Either way, the speakers are distinguished experts in their fields (health, education, policymaking, and so on). They discuss issues and ideas of academic and social importance, and how those ideas interact with what is going on in other fields.
In 2006, Lawrence Grossberg presented “Rescuing the Economy from Economists: A Challenge for Interdisciplinarity.” “Realizing Educational Opportunity for All” was presented by Wendy Kopp in 2007. Michael Berube gave a talk titled “Disability Studies and the Boundaries of the Human” in 2008. This semester, David Sloan Wilson presented “Evolving the City: Using Evolutionary Theory to Understand and Improve the Human Condition.”
The four topics might seem unconnected. But a closer look reveals that they all relate to the human condition as it is today and how it can be tomorrow. They all comment on society and what is going on outside our sheltered undergraduate world.
As students, our academic courses often focus on events and issues of importance to the world; yet we tend to get so involved in them we can lose sight of what is going on outside the College. Convocation reminds us that our courses are preparing us for the world. They are small windows to the realities we will soon be stepping into, brought to us by people who are already active players.
Convocation is important for two more reasons: first, it is very easy to classify our courses into science, social studies, and humanities. But convocation shows us that these disciplines closely interrelate. It is often the case that students will shun one division and embrace another, whereas in fact those disciplines will likely one day be closely linked to one another in the lives of those students.
Finally, convocation brings people together from across campus. It is not an elite event meant for seniors and professors only. Students of all levels are encouraged to attend, as are faculty, staff, and townspeople. We all gather as equals to learn about what is going on outside our small town in the middle of cornfields.
Amar Sarkar '12 is a Mathmatics major and Neuroscience concentrator from Gurgaon, India.