Catawba College Opening Convocation Marks Start of New Academic Year
August 15, 2017
Recent violent events in Charlottesville, Va., were referenced in remarks made by Catawba College President Brien Lewis during the College’s Opening Convocation ceremony held Tuesday, August 15, in a crowded Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on campus.
Noting that his voice is “rightly or wrongly considered the voice of the College,” Lewis said he felt compelled to address the “deeply troubling events in Charlottesville” at the advent of the new academic year in hopes that dialog and “vigorous and vehement disagreement, but not violence” would be the mantra at this Salisbury campus.
“I often have animated debates with friends and family members, but in the end we express our love for one another – and occasionally we even express our mutual respect, recognizing that our differences don’t have to truly divide us. But Nazism, the KKK, white supremacy – these are not those kind of policy or values disagreements. These are views and actions rooted in hate and lived out through fear and violence. They have no place here,” he said.
“I don’t want to be flip about it, but OF COURSE Nazism, the KKK and white supremacy are repugnant and must be repudiated and unwelcome here and across the nation. It SHOULD go without saying – and yet even in 2017 we are faced with having to say it, loudly and clearly. Thankfully, many ARE saying it.”
Noting that college campuses are intended to be bastions of free speech and the marketplace of ideas, Lewis cited two very different visitors to the Catawba campus during the 2016-2017 academic year. “In each case, members of this community told me they were unhappy with their [these visitors’] presence and that their views should not be welcomed on our campus,” he said.
He referenced the visit of now U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when he was campaigning for the Trump/Pence presidential ticket and the visit of Dr. Mark Achtemeier, a theologian and the author of “The Bible’s Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart.” Both visitors came to campus to share their particular points of view and neither visitor was met with violence.
“The world today seems angrier and more dangerous, but in the face of all of this, I still have hope,” Lewis said. He cited a verse from Hebrews in the Bible’s Old Testament to reinforce his point: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Then, he shared some pivotal moments from his own life, when faith, hope and forgiveness prevailed.
He recalled coming to N.C. to attend UNC Chapel Hill from Toronto, Canada, a large multi-cultural city where he had encountered “difference wherever I went.” He said, “It was eye-opening for me to come to N.C. as a freshman,” but added that while here, he had seen the power of change.
Lewis recalled a college friend, Wendell, who dated a girl whose skin was a different color than his. Wendell’s same-color friends gave him a hard time about that interracial relationship. Lewis remembered, however, that Wendell stood up to his same-color peers, noting that because of the actions and peaceful demonstration of his father, one of the men who sat down at the lunch counter at Woolworths in Greensboro during the height of segregation, Wendell could date whomever he chose.
During his senior year of college, Lewis said he saw other changes he never expected to see in his lifetime, like the Berlin Wall coming down, Nelson Mandela walking out of jail as a free man, and Mike Tyson knocked out in the boxing ring by a relatively unknown opponent.
Lewis said he had also seen “the incredible power of forgiveness.”
As a resident of Rock Hill, Lewis witnessed a man, John Lewis, who in 1961 as one of the Freedom Riders was severely beaten at Rock Hill bus station, return to that same city decades later as a U.S. Congressman to receive the key to the city and offer that community his forgiveness and friendship. John Lewis also had met the man who had beaten him, Elwin Wilson, and embrace Wilson when he asked him for forgiveness.
“Change and forgiveness don’t happen overnight,” Lewis explained. “It didn’t happen to Elwin Wilson overnight, it took years. But change and forgiveness start at places like Catawba College.
“The people who founded the College that is entrusted to us had vision and values in mind, not just grades, or boxes checked, or even careers,” he continued. “Think about the core values on our seal: Scholarship. Character. Culture. Service. And the Latin motto on the seal: ‘Sit Lux,’ Let there be light.
“Light and hope and faith begin with places like Catawba College and with people like you. Sharing honestly and openly, respectfully and thoughtfully, learning from mentors and from peers.
“Welcome to Catawba. We look forward to sharing this journey of change, faith, and hope with you.”
New students joining the Catawba College community signed the college registry and were recognized during the convocation and greeted by faculty, staff and upper class students as they entered a campus picnic that followed the ceremony. All members of the college community also pledged to uphold the college honor code during the ceremony.
Additionally, those gathered heard remarks from Bill Graham ’83, Chair of the College Board of Trustees, who shared advice with the new students:
“Watch what you put on social media. The delete button doesn’t work on the Internet.”
“Unless you’re employed, nothing good happens after 12 midnight. Go to bed — by yourself.”
Graham concluded saying, “Be successful, be safe, welcome and God bless.”
New SGA Officers for the 2017-2018 academic year were installed during the ceremony. They included Gavin Wooten, executive president; Payton Coleman, vice president; Adna Music, secretary; and Molly Sue Harmon, treasurer.
New Junior Marshals and a new Senior Marshal were also commissioned for service at the opening convocation ceremony. These Junior Marshals embody the best of Catawba College both in academic achievement and service to the College community. They are chosen from the junior class based on academic rank and are invited to serve as junior marshals. In their roles, they assure that order and dignity are observed during formal occasions at the college, including convocations, baccalaureate and commencement.
Junior Marshals commissioned for service during the ’17-’18 academic year include Cody Bennett; Dustin Chapman; Kyrbee Cheek; Matthew Hefner; Emily Hoffler; Leah Huggins; Luke Humble; Caroline Kirk; Tyler McHargue; Luca Picci; Emily Pratt; Devan Shell; Randy Stull; and Katherine Zobel. The Senior College Marshal commissioned was Dr. Renee McCachren, a professor of music and the senior faculty member of the college. Professor David Pulliam continues his service as College Marshal.