My View from South Hill
Sunday, June 19, 2011
This post is for members of the Ithaca College class of 2015, our entering freshman class. Others are welcome to read it as guests!
Your high school graduation ceremonies have been completed, along with the rest of the hoopla surrounding the end of your senior year. The beginning of your freshman year in college is about two months away. From now until then, you might be working. I am sure you are also spending quality time with friends, knowing that you will never again be together in quite the same way you were through your high school years.
This is a special moment in your life and you know it. You will always remember these months for your feelings of accomplishment and pride, for a twinge of sadness that your high school years have passed, and for excited anticipation as well as bit of nervousness about the big steps that are ahead of you.
I’d like to suggest that in addition to allowing yourself to fully experience this range of emotions, you might also be deliberate in taking advantage of this special time. This is a moment to reflect on and bring closure to what you have done and who you have been to this point. It is a time to ask yourself who you want to be and what you want to accomplish next. What will you be remembered for as a high school student? What would you like to be remembered for as a student at Ithaca College?
I hope you will take advantage of this summer to put yourself in some settings where deep reflection can take place, both alone and in the company of friends. Why not debate the significance of a poem, literary character or song lyric with friends until at least 2:00 a.m.? (Parental rules on curfew take precedence over this suggestion.) Why not reflect on the beauty and potential that exists in a single day by going to a quiet spot near your home and watching the sun come up?
During my in-between summer, I spent one night in a big old oak tree on public land that I had walked past many times between my home and the junior high school I attended. (My parents will learn about this for the first time if they read this post.) I no longer remember what caused me to think that was a good idea but I do remember some of the thoughts I had as I listened to the night sounds, reflected on what I was hoping for in college, and tried to stay awake for fear of falling out of the tree.
You will all, I hope, read Ransom – our first year reading. My last suggestion to you for this summer is that you underline every passage that seems important to you personally in your life, and write in the margin why. On the inside front cover, write three or four things that describe who you are. Also write down a few things you are proud of from your high school years. On the inside back cover, write down a few things you hope to accomplish as a college student. If you hope to become more empathetic, more open to a wide range of people and experiences, or more self-confident, be sure to write those things down. Find a place somewhere in the book to write one way in which the world seems out of whack to you. Describe specifically what would need to change to fix it.
If you do those things, I promise that you will in future years cherish this book beyond measure. It will become a window into who you are today, a window that will otherwise become cloudy with time. It will help you understand who you are trying to become. When your future self encounters what you have written in this book, you will feel challenged and delighted at the same time.
I hope you embrace this summer as one of those rare moments in life when you stand ready to take a major step into the unknown, into your own future. I know you are ready to join us on campus – and we are so very ready to welcome you.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Last week I went to a retirement party for Cornell University’s Sidney Tarrow, one of the world’s leading scholars in the study of social movements, a field in which I used to work. The “retirement party” was more of a two day research conference at which leading scholars discussed their recent work while offering comments on how Tarrow has shaped the field and inspired them personally. Academics celebrate the life and work of their colleagues upon retirement really well, which is a bit ironic because we tend not to be terribly kind to each other during our working years.
In this case, participants came from around the country as well as from Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, South Korea, and Australia. They presented research in areas that have been shaped by Tarrow’s lifetime of work, particularly on the phenomenon of waves or cycles of protest. Some of the presentations examined why movements accelerate and then decelerate with such rapidity. Others considered the international diffusion of protest, such as the recent and on-going struggles against authoritarian rule in the Middle East and North Africa. One of Sid’s contributions to the field was to find commonalities in the dynamics of protest in different parts of the world, under different types of governments and using radically different methods of contention. Accordingly, cases examined at this conference in his honor ranged from armed conflict for regime change to peaceful protest within democracies aimed at changing specific laws.
Though most of the conference was given over to research presentations, one panel at the end of the first day focused on Tarrow himself. The discussants included one of Sid’s former professors (Joe LaPalombara of Yale University), one of his former students (Sarah Soule, now at Stanford), one of his research collaborators (David Meyer of the University of California at Irvine), and one of his current colleagues at Cornell (Ken Roberts). Despite their different relationships to Tarrow, and despite the fact that their anecdotes ranged in time from the 1950s to last semester, there emerged a consistent picture of Sid’s commitment to collaboration for the advancement of knowledge. Sid’s collaborators – and he insisted on viewing first year graduate students and distinguished full professors as his collaborators – were drawn into an informal network that he put great energy into creating and maintaining. Sid befriended everyone working in the field, and being his friend meant sharing ideas and draft papers for review and comment by him and others in the network. The list of people who have been Sid’s co-authors is extensive, but several participants noted that his willingness – insistence really – to offer critiques of everything he read made him an unacknowledged co-author of a significant fraction of work in the field.
Sid Tarrow lives in Karl Popper’s ideal world of how reliable knowledge is developed. Popper believed that science advances by cultivating the widest possible proliferation of ideas and theories, and then ruthlessly testing each one to see whether they adequately account for observed reality. In Popper’s philosophy, all untested ideas are equal -- whether they come from an acknowledged expert in the field, someone new to the discipline, or someone completely outside of it. Tarrow shows us how that philosophy can be made to work in practice: network with everyone working in the field, show them your work and ask to see theirs, and then engage in a thoughtful dialog by email when necessary and by grant-supported conferences whenever possible. There is in this approach scant room for professional rivalries or for judging people by the prestige of the university they are associated with. It is instead all about the work.
Listening to Tarrow’s colleagues and collaborators, I was reminded of the fundamental nobility of the academic profession when properly pursued. Tarrow created (and though now retired has no intention of ceasing to create) a learning community in its purest form. Scholars in Tarrow’s orbit – including Sid himself – work better and faster because they are exposed to a wide range of ideas and research methods and because they can find out more quickly which ideas prove to be dead ends.
Of course there is also competition among those in Tarrow’s network. All scholars seek to advance their careers and reputations through the research they do. But embedded in the network is a recognition that collaboration enables everyone to do their best work. What would happen if other segments of society were also structured around a competiveness that is more substantially leavened by collaboration and mutual support?
Thursday, May 26, 2011
It might have been the perfect Commencement.
Not many businesses would celebrate the end of a four year relationship with a loyal customer. But of course higher education is not just another business. Colleges and universities around the country plan with care to create an exciting and memorable commencement for graduates and their families. We do this partly out of respect for what the graduates have accomplished during their time as students. But, as the word "commencement" implies, we do it even more as a celebration of what is to come. Our graduates are ready to lead successful and fulfilled lives. They are ready to make great contributions to the wider society. This truly is cause for celebration!
I have been to 42 commencements at five different colleges and universities over the last 37 years, including two in which I was part of the graduating class. Based on that considerable fund of experience, I think Ithaca College had the perfect commencement last Sunday.
Part of what made our commencement so great is the campus itself. Thanks to our grounds crews who already this spring have planted 6,000 annual flowers, spread 900 cubic yards of mulch and mowed 48 acres of lawn, the campus was perfectly tended. Our fountains and their views of Cayuga Lake were, as always, the perfect backdrop for thousands of family photos. I managed to wangle my way into several hundred of those photos, including the one posted here of Pam and Andy Russell (both IC class of 1980) and their daughter Lisa (IC class of 2011).
Part of what made our commencement memorable was the fact that it was featured on ABC’s World News Tonight, as our alumnus and commencement speaker David Muir ’95 returned to the studio and told a national audience about his experience on the IC campus.
What made this commencement truly great, though, was the people involved. At the center of attention: 1,440 graduates receiving bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. They were joined by approximately 11,000 family and friends, and were cheered on as well by several hundred IC faculty and staff.
Our graduates and other guests were treated to several moments they will remember for the rest of their lives. One such moment was Katie Henly’s ‘11 beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner delivered despite an unruly flag that kept flapping close to her face. Never has there been so much meaning in the line “Oh say does that star bangled banner yet wave?” It most certainly did wave while Katie sang!
Senior class president Danielle Giserman ’11 roused the audience with her listing of some of the experiences shared by all IC students. The biggest cheer of the day greeted her mention of Dom Barrett’s custom omelets prepared every morning in the Campus Center Dining Hall.
Dorothy Cotton, the civil rights educator who part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership team, received an honorary doctor of laws degree. She channeled Dr. King in the inspiring cadences of her speech, in which she told our graduates that the work of creating a just world will not be finished until they lend their talents to the greater good.
David Muir ’95 was chosen by the senior class committee to be our commencement speaker. He began by recalling vivid experiences from his days as a student at IC, including the time he burned popcorn in a microwave in Rowland Hall and created so much smoke that the fire trucks came out. He then spoke to his experience as a successful professional in television journalism, mentioning the moment when he realized the importance of unwavering commitment to excellence. Mr. Muir recalled doing the overnight news at ABC and thinking that no one would ever notice his 2 a.m. efforts until he learned that Peter Jennings had seen his work and thought highly of him. Suddenly, our graduates could see the straight path that runs from their work as IC students to success at the pinnacle of their future professional paths.
In different ways and coming from different personal experiences, Ms. Cotton, Mr. Muir and I offered variations on the theme that every graduate has the capacity to make a difference, and that the key to doing so is by finding your own voice. All three of us believe there is no tension between pursuing personal success and fulfillment, and trying to make a positive difference in the world. Those two paths are in reality the same.
Our graduates, ranging from 21 years of age to 86 year old Beryl Anderson, told me after the ceremony that they noticed the convergence in message and that it was one they will always keep close to their hearts. I have a feeling we will be hearing much more from the class of 2011 in the future. In the meantime, we can now begin planning the perfect commencement for the class of 2012!
For David Muir's complete commencement address and his story on ABC News about it, go to:http://wildfire.gigya.com/facebook/preview.aspx?fb_sig_api_key=f7667e9ebccf2157d6f15f991a5e3ce9&wid=541909711&p=bHQ9MTMwNjE4OTQ5MzQ3MCZwdD*xMzA2MTg5NDk2NjMwJnA9MTI1ODQxMSZkPUFCQ*5ld3NfU*ZQX*xvY2tlX*VtYmVkXzEzNjYxNjYwX*dyYWR1YXRpb25EYXkmbj1mYWNlYm9vayZnPTImbz1mNWE3ZTM5NzZlZmQ*YzUxYTU4ODQzYWVkODgzMWU1NiZvZj*w&s=1
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Amber, Liam and I welcomed Eliot Dell Rochon to our family today, April 13, 2011. He joined the world with a blink and a cry at 8:15 a.m., weighing 7 pounds 6 ounces and with a head full of rich brown hair. Mother and child are doing splendidly. Liam is delighted to have a brother. I am hyperventilating.
Amber and I have been asking friends in recent months about the transition from having one child to having two. We’ve gotten some great advice that is mainly centered on helping Liam adjust to changed circumstances.
My greatest curiosity, though one I was hesitant to voice to others, was how I would adjust. A family that felt whole with three members would now have four. A triad of interactions and relationships that have become well established over the last two years will now shift to accommodate Eliot. Love that felt complete would now be extended to someone new.
These thoughts did not concern me. There are millions of multi-child families after all, including the ones Amber and I each grew up in. My attitude was more one of curiosity – how does this amazing transition occur so instantly, so smoothly, and so completely? I was a caterpillar entering the metamorphosis stage confident in what was about to happen and yet not understanding how it possibly could.
I still don’t know how the shift occurs. All I know is that it does. Instantaneously. Our family is now four. My arms have wrapped around all of them at the same time.
Eliot is not named after anyone; his name belongs to him every bit as much as his life from today forward will be his. But we did borrow the spelling of Eliot’s name from T. S. Eliot. It was only after we became psychologically committed to this decision that I recalled how the poet once commented that his name is an anagram of toilets. Fortunately Eliot Rochon will not have to contend with that.
However, I do hope our Eliot will contend with some of T.S. Eliot's thoughts on life:
To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly know how far one can go.
Such reflections lie in Eliot's future. At the moment he is a squalling bundle of life aware only of his most immediate needs. His deep blue eyes have only just opened but he is already beginning to take in the incredible world into which he was born. Amber and I look at each other and then shift our gazes simultaneously to Eliot lying in her arms, and to Liam standing by the bed.
"What makes life dreary is the want of a motive," T. S. Eliot once wrote. Life around the Rochon home will be anything but dreary.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Last night I ran into the Ithaca College provost, Greg Woodward, in the hallway connecting our offices. Nothing unusual in that except that the time was 6:45 p.m.
I knew that Greg was headed to the monthly Faculty Council meeting that begins at 7:00 p.m., and as usual he had stayed on campus and worked through to that hour. “Why are you here?” Greg asked. “No wait, let me guess.”
Greg’s first guess was that maybe I was planning to visit the class in the Park School of Communications that was meeting that evening to discuss the fate of traditional media in a time of new technologies. The class was joined (via Skype) by Jill Agostino (an IC alumn who is assistant editor of the New York Times), by Peter King (an IC alum who works at CBS Radio News), by David Muir (an IC alum who is an ABC television news anchor), and by Diane Sawyer (who is not an IC alum but appears to have had a successful career anyway). It was an all-star cast discussing with our students one of the most important topics of our time. But no, that was not where I was headed.
Greg’s second guess was that maybe I was planning to attend L’Orfeo, the early 17th century opera written by Monteverdi that recounts the Greek legend of Orpheus descending to Hades to rescue his wife Eurydice. L'Orfeo is the current collaborative production of our Theatre program and the School of Music, being performed on stage in the Dillingham Center. It would have made for a wonderful evening but that was not where I was headed.
Greg’s third guess was that I might be on my way to a movie. IC alum Bill Carraro is producer of the soon-to-be-released film The Adjustment Bureau, starring Matt Damon and based on a short story by my personal favorite science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Carraro, a graduate of the class of 1981, has previously produced such films as American History X, The Golden Compass, Frequency, and The Wolfman. As a gesture of support and thanks for his IC education, Bill booked an entire local theater for the evening, rented a bus, and invited all Park School students to see a pre-release screening of The Adjustment Bureau. This would have been a fabulous way to spend my evening, but was not where I was headed.
“Of course!” Greg said. The IC Symphonic Band was performing, in Ford Hall on campus that evening, works by Timothy Mahr, Warren Benson, Martin Ellerby and David Maslanka. That is where Greg would probably have been himself had he not gone to the Faculty Council meeting. But no, that was not where I was going.
Now Greg was really scratching his head. A quick check of the campus events calendar on his cell phone unearthed another possibility. Maybe I was headed to the free evening of stand up and improv comedy being put on by the IC Comedy Club in IC Square? That sounded like fun, but it was not where I was heading.
The Ithaca College provost works really hard and I knew he had a Faculty Council meeting to get to, so I relented and filled him in. I was headed to an Etiquette Dinner sponsored by several student organizations in our School of Business, including the American Marketing Association and the National Association of Black Accountants. That may sound like a dull affair involving the close study of which fork to use for which course, but in fact this annual event is a fun and low-pressure opportunity to practice both table manners and social graces for use in a job interview setting. There was a reserved stiffness among the participants at the beginning of the meal, but by the end students at each table had effectively bonded with the table host who served as a surrogate for a potential employer. That bonding is exactly what is supposed to happen over a meal during an actual job interview.
After the networking-over-coffee event that followed the Etiquette Dinner, I decided to stop by the IC Comedy Club performance. A student was doing some very funny material about how there isn’t much to do in Ithaca. I smiled at the irony and headed home after a normal Tuesday evening on the Ithaca College campus.