Convocation 2019: “Get Out There and Explore” – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Convocation 2019: “Get Out There and Explore”

In his address at the 2019 Convocation ceremony, paleontologist Matt Lamanna ’97 advised HWS students to “explore who you are, and who you’d like to become.”

Matt Lamanna '97 delivers his Convocation address on Stern Lawn.
Matt Lamanna ’97 delivers his Convocation address on Stern Lawn.

Lamanna, one of the few scientists in history to find dinosaur fossils on all seven continents, reflected on the T. Rex discovery he made as an HWS student, the importance of mentorship and teamwork and the trajectory of his career — from a childhood dream to his current role as associate curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

[Convocation ceremony video is available here.]

From his earliest memories through graduate school, Lamanna said, “I always knew what I wanted to do with my life, and thankfully, I got to do it. I’m grateful for that, and I try to never take it for granted. But I also realize that not everybody knows what they want to do right away, and that’s again where HWS comes in. This is a place to explore your interests and really, who you are and who you’d like to be…Who can say just where those explorations will take you?”

In her Convocation remarks, President Joyce P. Jacobsen welcomed the Colleges’ community for the official start of the 2019-20 the academic year and reflected on the ways a liberal arts education demands engagement in the broader world. “Other people are the sounding board we need,” said Jacobsen, noting that “the true significance of an academic convocation” suggests many different people and ideas coming together.

“It’s a visceral thing to study, to learn, to be academic,” she said. “Here in this place, we have brought together you along with other people with whom you can converse and discuss all academic year long, and in some cases, the rest of your lives…and engage in this process of discovery together.”

Professor of Chemistry Erin Pelkey, recipient of the 2018-19 Faculty Prize for Scholarship, recounted how, on a recent trip panning for gold, he discovered that “the excitement of trying to find gold reminded me of doing research — the feeling you get when you find something.…How much gold does the pan have to have for you to be excited? Any amount! You find gold, it’s exhilarating…Doing research with faculty here you can have your very own panning for gold moment.”

As Hobart Student Trustee Edens Fleurizard ’20 advised new students, “This education is your vehicle. It is your responsibility to get all the mileage out of it that you can…Invest in yourself so that you can invest in others. You are here to become a more dynamic, well-rounded and learned individual. Take courses that you wouldn’t otherwise take, speak with people with whom you cannot identify. Understand people who are situated differently than you are. Acknowledge and celebrate each other’s differences, and find unity in the fact that you are here together to learn and grow yourselves.”

Reflecting on her time at HWS, William Smith Student Trustee Gianna Gonzalez ’20 described how academic exploration helped her discover that her calling, in contrast to her initial plans to become a teacher, “is how people use words to communicate.”

“Thanks to the many mentors and resources on campus I have been able to explore HWS and myself through a process of trial and error,” she said. “While I do not know where this road will lead, I do know that taking Linguistics gave me the tools to explore my interests and prepare me for the challenges of choosing a career path.”

The Rev. Nita C. Johnson Byrd, HWS chaplain and dean for spiritual engagement, opened the Convocation ceremony asking the HWS community to contemplate “our own stories, our own passions, and our own sorrows and our own joys as we sit here in a point in time that will never be repeated.” Julianne Miller, director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life and Hillel Adviser, offered the benediction, invoking “the will to persist, to explore and to question.”