Convocation 2023

Speakers Celebrate Community, Growth, and Vassar’s Uniquely Beautiful Campus
Photos Buck Lewis

As members of the Vassar community gathered in the Chapel for the College’s Convocation ceremonies on August 30, Professor of Art Yvonne Elet urged her audience to open their eyes to the buildings and landscape of the campus as a place that helps to define their college experience. “The fundamental role of a college campus is to foster intellectual discovery, creative thinking, a sense of community, and discourse,” Elet told the more than 1,200 attending the 158th annual event. “It is a place that provides a sense of safety and belonging; and at the same time, a healthy jolt of disorientation to provoke new modes of thinking. It is a laboratory for learning. As one campus planner poignantly remarked, the campus is a teacher.”

Person standing at a podium with professors sitting behind them and students in graduation caps sitting in front.
Convocation speaker Yvonne Elet, Professor of Art, urged the 1,200 members of the Vassar community in attendance to explore and embrace the College’s beautiful and historic campus.

The ceremonies began with a procession of the class of 2027, clad in the caps and gowns they will wear again four years from now, into the chapel to the music of organist Gail Archer. The Convocation Choir followed with a riveting performance that President Elizabeth H. Bradley admitted had brought tears to her eyes.

Person standing at a podium with professors sitting behind them and students in graduation caps sitting in front.
President Elizabeth H. Bradley welcomes more than 1,200 members of the Vassar community to the College’s 158th Convocation.

In her opening remarks, Bradley said the Convocation ceremonies served as an annual start to the academic year. “We are joining in a long tradition, working together as a community,” Bradley said. “May this be a year of learning and growing together.”

Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana said that while everyone in the Vassar community was aware of the challenges they were facing—including deadly wars, climate change, and racial injustice—he was comforted by the spirit of hopefulness he experiences every fall when the new academic year begins. “Vassar students give meaning to the work we do at the College,” Dean Alamo-Pastrana said. “We need you; we need each other.”

Conductor standing gesturing with singers in the background and students with graduation caps in the foreground.
Associate Professor of Music Christine Howlett and the Convocation Choir opened the ceremonies with a song based on poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vassar Class of 1917.

Speaker Priya Nair ’15, Deputy Chief Diversity Officer in the Office of New York Governor Kathy Hochul, echoed the themes of community and personal growth while accepting the Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award, presented annually by the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC). “I am so grateful to Vassar, because it is a huge part of where I am today,” Nair said. “Vassar gave me skills like writing and research, but also skills of relationship building, of being curious about other people, and most importantly, of being authentically me.”

Three people standing and smiling on a stage with the person in the middle holding a glass award.
Priya Nair ’15 (center) accepts the AAVC Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award from AAVC Vice President Brian Farkas ’10 (left) and Stephanie Goldberg ’14, a member of the AAVC’s Recognition Committee.

Nair said they were eager to see how the undergraduates seated in the Chapel before them would tackle the world’s challenges upon leaving the campus. “Please know you will always have me in your corner,” they said. “I can’t wait to see all the ways you will transform yourselves and transform the world.”

Nair received the award from AAVC Vice President Brian Farkas ’10 and Stephanie Goldberg ’14, a member of the AAVC’s Recognition Committee. Farkas welcomed members of Vassar’s Class of ’27 by letting them in on a Vassar secret: “Vassar is not a four-year experience,” he said. “Vassar is with you for a lifetime.”

He said Nair’s remarkable achievements during the short time since they graduated from Vassar should serve as an inspiration to everyone in the Vassar community. “Since 2015, Priya has been one of Vassar’s most productive change-makers,” Farkas said.

(Read more about the 2023 AAVC award winners)

Olivia Gross ’24, President of the Vassar Student Association, urged her fellow students, particularly members of her Class of ’24, to make the most of the coming year. “When we come back to Vassar, it should be with no regrets,” Gross said. “College is about connections and support. This is our college experience and we have the power to make it the best it can be.”

Person standing at a podium with a woman sitting in a large wooden throne behind her with professors in the background looking on.
Vassar Student Association President Olivia Gross ’24: “College is about connections…”

During her 20-minute address, Professor Elet led her audience on a virtual tour of the elements and remarkable history of the campus. “Together, the collection of buildings, landscape elements, and the enduring tree canopy all contribute to the distinctive character or spirit of the place—its genius loci,” she said. “The campus is a tangible expression of the college’s identity, where physical setting serves to express intangibles of character and meaning.”

Elet said she had recently met a Vassar alum who told her she had not appreciated, until she returned five years after graduating, how beautiful the campus was. “She mused that she had been so busy or stressed as a student that she was always rushing from place to place, with too much on her mind to notice her surroundings,” she said. “I think that characterizes most of us at times: so overloaded and living in our heads that we fail to register fully what is around us. And we naturally gravitate to the to the same few spaces, leaving others unexplored.”

“So, I am exhorting you to explore and enjoy our park-like campus; but the idea is not simply to admire it, but also to be analytical. It is interesting to know that for every space on campus, there were alternate visions of what might have been.”

Person on stage surrounded by professors standing in formal graduation attire applauding with students in the front in caps and gowns applauding.
Professor Elet’s speech elicited a standing ovation.

During the event, President Bradley announced the seven new recipients of faculty endowed chairs. They are:

  • Tobias Armborst, Professor of Art, the Isabelle Hyman Chair
  • Kathryn Libin, Professor of Music, the Mary Conover Mellon Chair
  • Colette Salyk, Associate Professor of Astronomy, the Maria Mitchell Chair
  • William Hoynes, Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Sociology, the Jane Baker Nord ’42 Chair
  • Laura Haynes, Assistant Professor of Earth Science, the Mary Clark Rockefeller Chair
  • Molly McGlennen, Professor of English, the Anne McNiff Tatlock ’61 Chair
  • Ming-Wen An, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, the Elizabeth Stillman Williams Chair

Rev. Samuel Speers, Associate Dean of the College for Religious and Spiritual Life and Contemplative Practices, closed Convocation by echoing some of the themes Elet had raised in her talk. “So now beloved people, let this campus be our teacher,” Speers said. “As we set out into the unfamiliar, may the stunning museum of trees around us be our guiding companions. As we find our way, following where our desire paths lead us, may we learn to notice each day something we haven’t noticed before, somethingor someonewe are learning to love. May one thing we remember on this warm day be the tangible place-ness of our being, incarnate beings that we are, together in this place.”

See more photos on Flickr.

September 7, 2023