By Dana Cadey

Principia College President John Williams addressed the community this past Friday, September 11, both in person and remotely for the Fall 2020 Convocation. 

Instead of taking place inside Cox Auditorium as usual, Principia held Convocation inside the Chapel for 47 new students and Williams, and outside on the Chapel Green for everyone else – including professors dressed in their academic attire and students. 

The large, masked crowd occupied the majority of the Chapel Green, maintaining appropriate social distancing as they listened to Williams’ voice echo through the speakers.

Professors and upperclassmen applaud as the new students walk down the path from the chapel on September 11, 2020.

In his speech, Williams shared meaningful experiences from his own past, which he applied to certain elements of today’s cultural and political atmosphere. These anecdotes were centered around casting off his own ingrained stereotypes and learning to be an agent of positive change.

“We are at a pivot point in history, and that is really cool,” Williams said enthusiastically. “I believe that we are not subjects or victims. We, in fact, have the power of choice, agency. We do not have to be victims – we can influence change.”

Williams also shared a few tips for students that he said could help them “survive in college,” such as questioning each other and professors with “respect and humility,” and taking the time to truly know everybody in the community.

New students walk down the path from the chapel after fall convocation on September 11, 2020.

On a more technical note, Williams spoke on how the lack of people on campus this summer allowed for the undertaking of a variety of projects, including work on Sylvester and Buck houses and installing electric locks on dorm doors. This was followed by a formal update to the community about the COVID-19 situation, in which Williams happily informed the crowd that there have been no known cases of the virus on campus since students returned. 

“We have been successful in ‘casting out fear’ on this campus in these two weeks,” Williams said, referencing this year’s metaphysical theme. 

“We do not have to be victims – we can influence change.”

Williams encouraged students to remain prayerfully vigilant as the college prepares to open up more (which includes allowing students to leave campus). He also stressed important practical steps that must remain in place, such as the daily health screenings and frequent hand-washing.

“We all want to help and support one another in this really weird time so we can have an excellent adventure,” said Williams.

“It was really cool getting to be one of the few inside [the Chapel],” said Sissy Sugarman, a freshman. “We’ve had so many Zoom meetings recently, so getting to do something that was in person and felt so real was nice. It’s amazing how I would never think that that was a privilege before this.”

In keeping with tradition, Convocation ended with the new students marching down the pathway in front of the Chapel, flanked by faculty, professors, and other students applauding as they passed. An upbeat live performance by Principia’s jazz band wrapped up the ceremony.

Photos by Amanda Schwabe.

Image courtesy of L. Kincaid Holmes