Convocations: at our tiny liberal arts college, we’ve come to know these as the large gatherings where some guest speaker comes and we receive credit for listening to him or her speak for about an hour.
We know we’re all required to complete 30 of them by graduation, but it seems like few people get any enjoyment out of them. Convocations to students seem to be more of a burden or obligation than a valuable learning experience. I, on the other hand, usually look forward to convocations, always expecting stimulating or inspiring discourse resulting from convos.
However, my optimism was shattered recently.
On Monday February 2, Illinois College received David Schmidtz, a Professor from The University of Arizona, for our Phi Beta Kappa Lecture. The lecture was titled “What Teachers Owe Students,” an interesting topic and I anticipated a stimulating dialogue to ensue, seeing as many students and faculty members were in attendance.
My anticipation was met with no satisfaction. What Mr. Schmidtz delivered was perhaps the poorest speech I’ve ever witnessed. Choppy, incoherent, and uninteresting, I had no idea what the focus of his discourse was supposed to be. He jumped around many different topics and the few topics that addressed the question of what teachers owe students seemed to address it minimally.
However, the content, or lack thereof, was the least of his problem. Mr. Schmidtz seemed more interested in his shoes than he did in his audience, avoiding eye contact for most of the speech. His posture also suggested disinterest as his arms were either crossed or his hands were in his pockets. Mr. Schmidtz did everything they warn you against in CO 101.
Halfway through the speech he apologized, alerting us that he was reading us a rough draft, which to me suggested we weren’t worth the time or effort of a finished product. In his only effort to engage the audience, he also made a cheap joke offending administration. To top it all off, Mr. Schmidtz exceeded the hour long time period allotted to convocations, drawing out an already dry lecture.
It may seem like I’m nitpicking, but I had expected a worthy discourse to come from such a “prestigious” speaker. Knowing I couldn’t be the only one to notice the poor presentation, I engaged with several peers, faculty, and staff members after the convo, and the consensus was that it was awful.
However, rather than dwell on that hour and twenty minutes of my life that I wasted, I feel compelled to ask the question, what do convocations owe students? What do students wish to see in the future?
Student organizations and the administration work very hard to bring speakers that will interest students and provide a worthwhile experience. Sometimes they’re a hit, like the Students Fight Back convo that was sponsored by SAB recently; and sometimes they’re a miss, like this particular convo.
How can individual students affect the speakers that are brought to campus? Feedback and suggestions. Instead of passive aggressively Yakking about how bad a convocation is, make sure to fill out surveys that are given before most convocations. If there are no surveys and you were particularly pleased or displeased, email the student organization in charge of putting on the convo.
A convocation, more than an hour of lecture, should result in food for thought. We deserve speakers that are engaging, interesting, and impactful, and we should be able to make our voices heard to ensure we receive these types of speakers.
While my experience at this convocation was not the best, I hope to only see better from here on out.