Conway School’s Forty-Sixth Commencement
June 23, 2018
Skies were grey, but spirits were decidedly bright as the eighteen members of the Class of 2018 and nearly one hundred friends, family members, faculty, staff, and trustees gathered under the protective roof of a pavilion at Easthampton’s Nonotuck Park for a very special – and very Conway – commencement ceremony.
Mollie Babize ’84 shared a warm introduction to keynote speaker H. Emerson “Chip” Blake and to Orion magazine, of which Chip is editor-in-chief, saying, “We all need inspiration, and we need community. We need writing like [that in Orion Magazine] that doesn’t turn its back on the hard issues we are facing, but that brings them into a perspective we can handle. Not just handle; do something about, at whatever scale we choose to work.”
Chip shared reflections of his own winding path in graduate school; he started out in a resource management program, and ended up studying philosophy. He explained:
“What I began to think was missing from our culture in general – American culture in general, on the broadest scale – was an ethic that helps us understand why the environment and ecology are important, and how our well-being, whether it be physical, emotional, economic, or spiritual, is completely intertwined with the condition of the natural world. And that until that ethic was more fully in place, that no amount of effort was going to be enough. I began to feel that my calling was not in the application of science and policy and technology, but in deepening and expanding a conversation that helped others understand the importance of nature – in short, to deepen the philosophy that people used to guide their decisions about how we live on this planet.”
Chip encouraged the graduates to think of themselves as philosophers, too – to reflect on philosophy and design together:
“You, in the work you will do, are in the catbird’s seat to defeat ugliness. You will be in the catbird’s seat to help people remember how beautiful the world is, and the vastness and multiplicity of the creatures and elements we’re surrounded by, and you will be in the position to help people remember how enmeshed our lives are with those creatures and elements. You will have the opportunity, and the challenge, of disabusing the fantasies that people have had about the laws of nature for centuries, and which, I am afraid to say, are just as fantastical in 2018 as they have been at any point in the past. The kind of work you will engage in is about more than ecological design. It will be about the business of reminding people of the highest forces that control and shape our lives, of the miracles we’re surrounded by, and of our highest purposes as human beings.”
He also invited graduates to “teach others about the ways in which an inclusion of a broad array of voices make for stronger ideas and stronger communities,” because environmental issues cannot be held separate from issues of justice, race, identity, and class. Borrowing a tradition of his friend Robin Kimmerer, a member of the Potawatomi Nation, Chip acknowledged the ancestry of the land where we were gathered, and acknowledged the people who lived there in pre-colonial times:
“I would like to acknowledge the Pocomtuc, Norwottuck, and Nonotuck peoples, who lived here for centuries, and were plentiful here until as recently as 1720 but mostly gone by 1760. This land where we are today was once theirs, and some would say, still is. We can only speculate on what they would have to teach us about ecological design. “
Faculty member Kate Cholakis ’11 introduced the Class of 2018, and explained the Conway tradition of graduates presenting their degrees to one another. As each graduate introduced one of their classmates, we all gained insight into how deeply they respect one another and how well they have gotten to know each other. There was a great deal of laughter, and a healthy sprinkling of tears, as the graduates reflected on their time together at Conway and their hopes for the future.
Many thanks to all of the volunteers who helped to make the celebration special by providing flower arrangements, lending and setting up tents and a PA system, setting up and taking down chairs, designing the program and invitation, taking photos, welcoming guests, donating delectable desserts, and so much more.
We wish the graduates all the best as they join the committed, supportive community of Conway alums. We know that they will continue to be advocates for strong ecosystems and healthy communities, and will follow Chip Blake’s advice:
“Do well with the skills you gained here at Conway. Look around at the community you’re surrounded by today and stay in touch with them. Enjoy your newfound wisdom, although if you are like me you will do well to remember these words from Barbara Kingsolver: ‘Wisdom is like frequent-flyer miles and scar tissue; if it does accumulate, that happens by accident while you’re trying to do something else.’ Go forward with hope. Be kind to yourself when you fail. Listen to your critics, but be prepared to ignore their criticisms. Don’t forget to run screaming through a pasture occasionally, either with joy, or with grief, or for no reason at all.”
Photos by Andrew Kilduff ’17, Priscilla Novitt ’07, Dave Weber ’15, and Elaine Williamson ’11