It’s an idyllic June day in Oberlin—blue skies, perfect temperature, birds singing, and trees, flowers, and shrubs blooming all around campus and town. While I don’t want to disturb anyone’s spring reverie, I have exciting news about the line-up for our 2013-14 Convocation series.
The first Convocation will be on September 10 and features Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson, two of the world’s greatest thinkers, writers, and doers when it comes to protecting the environment, battling climate change, and promoting sustainability. Wendell Berry has been described as a modern-day Thoreau and the soul of the real-food movement. He is a man of letters; an academic, cultural and economic critic; and a farmer in my native Kentucky. Wes Jackson is the founder and president of the Land Institute, where he leads research into new agricultural practices that combine earth-conscious farming with new plant breeds and genetic technologies. In 2009, Berry and Jackson published a landmark op-ed article in the New York Times, “A 50-Year Farm Bill.”
On September 27, we will have the honor of hosting Randy Newman. I probably don’t have to say more than that. But, just in case some of you aren’t familiar with his work, I can tell you that he is a brilliant, utterly original singer-songwriter, arranger, composer, and pianist who has won multiple Grammys, Emmys, and Oscars—and the hearts of millions of fans.
Jose Antonio Vargas will be our Convocation speaker on October 1. Vargas describes himself as a journalist, multimedia storyteller, and the founder of Define American, a campaign that seeks to elevate the immigration conversation. He was born in the Philippines and came to the United States at age 12. While working for the Washington Post, he was on the team that won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2008 for its online and print coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings. He has also worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Huffington Post.
In a June 2011 essay in the New York Times Magazine, Mr. Vargas revealed his status as an “undocumented immigrant” to promote dialogue about the immigration system in this country and to advocate for the DREAM Act, which created a path to citizenship for younger, undocumented immigrants.
The Convocation series will resume for spring semester on February 22, 2014, with Avery Brooks ’70 as our guest speaker. Mr. Brooks has had a remarkable career as an actor, singer, and teacher. He has appeared on stage, film, and television, and is perhaps best-known for his television roles as Benjamin Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and as Hawk on Spenser: For Hire and its spinoff, A Man Called Hawk. he also is renowned for his compelling portrayal of Paul Robeson on Broadway and in theaters across the country. An Indiana native who grew up in Evansville and Gary, Mr. Brooks is and accomplished classical actor having played King Lear at Yale Rep and Othello at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., where he also starred in the title role in Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. He also played the lead role in the Anthony Davis’s opera, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.
Avery Brooks has returned to Oberlin several times: as the college’s first artist-in-residence, teacher of the Black Arts Workshop, and for performances including Paul Robeson and Death of a Salesman. In 1996, the college awarded him an honorary doctorate. Mr. Brooks is a professor of theater arts at Rutgers University and has served as artistic director of the biannual National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta.
On March 4, our Convocation speaker will be Natasha Trethewey, the 19th poet laureate of the United States. A native of Gulfport, Mississippi, she is the author of four collections of poetry: Domestic Work (2000), Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002), Native Guard (2006)—for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize—and, most recently, Thrall (2012). Her book of non-fiction, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, appeared in 2010. She is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Beinecke Library at Yale, and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Ms. Trethewey is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University.
There will be one more Convocation during the spring of 2014. I can’t yet share that information because we’re still awaiting confirmation from the speaker. Suffice it to say, it will be another lively evening in beautiful Finney Chapel.
I’ll announce Oberlin’s 2013-14 Artist Recital Series performers in my next President’s Desk column. That line-up promises to be as exciting as the Convocation series.