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Fall Convocation: Wisdom, Advice…and Awards

Vassar’s Fall Convocation provided students, faculty, and staff with some friendly, practical advice and a celebration of achievements by six of its alumnae/i. Lisa Collins, Professor of Art on the Sarah Gibson Blanding Chair and Professor of American and Africana Studies, delivered the Convocation Address, and the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College bestowed awards upon six of distinguished alumnae/i.

In her Convocation address, Collins reminisced about the contrasting lessons she had learned from her parents. During her summer vacations, Collins said, her father instilled in her the importance of preparing for tasks thoroughly and completing them on time, while her mother taught her the necessity of having fun.

“Dad always insisted on doing the most difficult and imposing tasks in the morning,” she told the more than 1,100 people in attendance in the Chapel. “And he said tackling hard chores was much easier with the right preparation.

“Mom, on the other hand, was an extrovert,” Collins continued. “Her answer to everything in the summer was ‘swimming’ and ‘ice cream.’”

Professor of Art Lisa Collins delivered the Convocation Address.

Collins said she thought she had followed her father’s advice on a recent project—until she realized she hadn’t followed all of it. “I was proud to have painted my whole deck, but then I saw I hadn’t sanded some parts of it first,” she noted. “So I inherited Dad’s work ethic but failed on the idea of preparation.”

Collins said her mother was a kindergarten teacher “who knew a body has to move.” If someone in the family complained about the heat in the summer, her mother would answer, “‘Go swimming.’ Bored? ‘Go swimming, and maybe later enjoy a little ice cream.’”

Her mother’s love of ice cream persisted until her last breath, Collins said, when she refused water but shared some chocolate ice cream with her children for her last meal. And her mother taught her another lesson that day. “For all of us who are grieving for the lives that have been lost,” her mother said, “let us all strive to create a world where it’s possible to think about what matters most.”

President Elizabeth Bradley offers thoughts on the value of meandering paths.

Before President Elizabeth Bradley introduced Collins as the event’s main speaker, she offered some advice of her own. She said that when she first came to Vassar, she was sometimes annoyed by the meandering pathways on the campus. “No matter where you want to go,” Bradley noted, “it’s not a straight line.”

But as she reflected on her own paths in life, Bradley said, she realized that meandering isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She recalled that when she was starting her academic career, she had been advised by some of her colleagues that to attain tenure, she should concentrate more on her research and less on her teaching. Bradley loved teaching, so she asked one of her high school English teachers for advice—and was told to follow her own path.

“She told me it’s better to be a rose in a desert than one more rose in a garden full of roses,” Bradley said. “She reminded me that having a minority voice is important, even if the majority never changes. Ultimately, I was tenured, but I did it my own way.”

Seniors march into the Chapel for the Convocation Ceremony.

Prior to her talk, Bradley recognized three members of the faculty on their recent appointments: Collins had been named as the Art Department’s Sarah Gibson Blanding Chair; Associate Professor of Art and Director of Urban Studies Tobias Armborst had been awarded the Anne McNiff Tatlock ’61 Chair in Multidisciplinary Studies; and Associate Professor of Biology David Esteban was the recipient of the Pauline Newman ’47 Directorship of Science, Technology, and Society.

Carlos Espina ’20, President of the Vassar Student Association, advised his fellow students to shrug off some of their anxieties as the school year began. “We are all entering moments of uncertainty,” Espina said. “If you’re feeling it, be assured you’re not the only one. First-years are acclimating to new surroundings, and we seniors are worrying about what life will be like after college. Take a step back to celebrate what you have already accomplished; remember why you’re here, and take advantage of it.”

Choral director Christine Howlett leads the Vassar Choir in song.

In what has become a tradition at Convocation, the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC) bestowed two of its highest awards. AAVC President Steve Hankins ’85 and Sharon Chang ’84, Chair of the Alumnae/i Recognition Committee, presented the Young Alumnae/i Achievement Award to five founders and executives of eevo, a flourishing startup that helps media companies create immersive environments with the help of virtual reality and other technologies; and world-renowned architect Phyllis Bronfman Lambert ’48 was awarded the AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement.

Read more about the honorees. And view a gallery of photos from Convocation.