A Powerful Celebration
Earlier this week, I crossed my front lawn from Cromwell Cottage to the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater, where a few of my colleagues and I livestreamed a special edition of Kenyon’s Honors Day. I will admit that it was strange speaking to the Kenyon community from an almost-empty theater, recognizing the many achievements of our students and faculty to virtual applause. In a week when April has brought the long-awaited Ohio mix of blue skies, sunshine, green grass, blooming flowers and the occasional snow flurry, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that we were not able to assemble on Middle Path for a procession into Rosse Hall — Chamber Singers in the balcony, friends and colleagues all around, spilling out en masse onto the lawn at the close of the ceremony. Yet in celebrating Honors Day even when our community is dispersed — indeed, especially when we are dispersed — we acknowledge the role that rituals play in strengthening the fabric of our community, and that what matters most are the values that underpin them.
At the start of the academic year we embarked on a process to rearticulate Kenyon’s mission and values, and earlier this semester, with input from students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees that made every iteration better, the College adopted a new statement of mission and values. It reads:
At Kenyon, we build strong foundations for lives of purpose and consequence. We harness the transformative power of a liberal arts education — engaging in spirited, informed, and collaborative inquiry — to form a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the world and all who inhabit it.
Only 44 words. Yet these two sentences manage to capture the essence of what binds us as a community and what propels our institution forward. This work was complete in February, before the novel coronavirus got a foothold in countries around the globe, before it reshaped our lives in ways few of us could have imagined. We knew then that Kenyon’s path forward would be built on a deeper foundation of mission and values, but we had no idea just how essential these reminders of purpose would be to steady and sustain us in turbulent times.
The accomplishments celebrated at Honor’s Day are impressive in range and quality: national recognitions to Fulbright and NCAA Postgraduate Fellows and Goldwater and Schwarzman Scholars; awards for academic excellence in every department, celebrations of literary and artistic productions; and overall campus leadership. Every year I am impressed by the honorees, students who are already demonstrating purpose and consequence in their pursuits, and the livestreamed version of this year’s ceremony did not diminish that in any way.