I have never been ashamed of being a Wittenberg student. Wittenberg, to so many of us, is the best example of a second-home, a supportive family community. However, sitting in the back of Weaver Chapel during the Opening Convocation on Wednesday, I found myself blushing, utterly embarrassed.
At the beginning of the event, the chapel was packed. Taking my seat toward the back, I noticed how many different groups of students were represented: athletes, Greek members, student leaders– a variety of majors and ages, ready to honor our entire community.
So we sat, listening. Engaging.
Immediately following Kenneth Cukier’s passionate address, there came a loud, unapologetic exodus of students . Even freshmen who had never been to a convocation before, and perhaps had not even considered leaving early, eventually followed the example of the upperclassmen.
It was eleven-thirty, only half-way through the scheduled events.
The outpour continued for the rest of the ceremony. Student Senate members, standing up to be recognized for their leadership, turned back to see clumps of students deliberately ignoring their leaders’ commitments to the university. Newly tenured professors, including Dr. Wright, accepting a prestigious faculty award, stood to applause, but also to the sound of backpacks zipping and the shuffling of feet heading outward.
Most heartbreakingly, Wittenberg students walked out on the heart of the convocation: bestowing a Medal of Honor upon late alumnus, Charles Weller. Mr. Weller’s family accepted the award, and his wife spoke eloquently on his behalf. As she began her speech, though, a cluster of departing students knocked over a piece of chapel furniture. The student population turned to look, some laughed, while Mrs. Weller jokingly recognized the disruption and began her speech. Later, remembering her husband’s contributions, she tearfully addressed students, encouraging us to pass on our light.
By the time the faculty and student leaders recessed, less than sixty minutes after the ceremony had begun, entire rows were empty. The elevated far-left side was sparse, dotted with the remaining students.
So, what about passing on our light?
Before I continue, I want to clarify that not every student participated in this attitude. Many people did stay for the entire convocation, listened, took notes, tentatively sang the Alma Mater, and waited patiently through the recessional. There was respect in practice.
Still, many students chose to do the opposite.
Should there be an award to students who can last the longest at a university event? Or should it should be the expectation, the standard minimum?
I realize that it was hot outside – imagine how professors must have felt in their heavy black robes. Despite the temperature, a respected tradition was happening, and by attending we made the unspoken agreement to tolerate the heat. Additionally, the entire day’s schedule was re-configured by administrators who wanted us to come together for one day. Where else would we have to go?
My intent is not to condescend. I only mean to show how the decisions of a few can influence the perception of the whole. Are we a disrespectful student body? Are we rude, loud, and uninterested? If I were an alumna or a distinguished faculty member sitting up front, facing the outgoing students, I might think so. Even as a student, I was forced to wonder what we, the growing scholars of Wittenberg, truly value.
What I’m saying is: A few people in the back leaving for work or other commitments would be much different than entire empty rows.
I hope that many of us become successful business people, artists, and world-changers. I hope that we are each invited back at some point to address future students and faculty, sharing our intellect and expertise. And I hope that, when this does happen, the students will stay, listen to what we have to say, and pay attention the t honors bestowed upon others. Not because they have to prove their attendance to a professor, but because it is simply the respectful, unspoken norm. Because they are proud of their university and the richness it holds. Because they pass their light on to each other, and back to those who came before.