Convocation: How it began
By Brian Ramsay
October 2, 2012
Some wonder about the birth, the genesis, the uprising and takeover of the Convocation on Critical Issues at Missouri Western.
This year’s Convocation on Critical Issues will hosts T. Boone Pickens who’s speech is titled Leadership and Getting Things Done: Reflections on a Lifetime of Comebacks and America’s Energy Future.
The Convocation was the brainchild of a one Dan Boulware, former president of the Board of Regents (now called the Board of Governors).
Boulware speaks often of being an undergrad at the University of Kansas where he watched Nelson Rockefeller and later Bobby Kennedy both give speeches.
“Bobby Kennedy made an impact on me. I felt very strongly that type of event would be something very great for the students at Missouri Western as well as the community and I wanted to see something like that here,” Boulware said.
Shortly after envisioning the idea, he was given an opportunity to play a part in that dream.
Former Presidents Janet Murphy and Jim McCarthy approached Boulware with an idea.
Murphy and McCarthy wanted to inaugurate a convocation and they wanted to do so in honor of Boulware.
“They wanted me to play a leading role in that convocation, in selecting speakers and also introducing speakers because they knew I had an interest in doing so,” Boulware said.
That’s when it started. In 1993, The Convocation on Critical Issues was born. From there, it just snowballed into what it has become today.
Boulware is still an important part of bringing speakers to campus, according to Kent Heier, assistant director of Marketing. Heier explained what the main goals of Convocation are.
“One was to bring some well-known speakers to campus to enrich the student experience,” Heier said. “The other goal was to help bridge or create a bridge between the community and the university.”
Heier also thought it would give the community a chance to hear from people that ordinarily might not come to St. Joseph.
Many famous people have walked the halls here at Western to give speeches at Convocation.
Colin Powell was scheduled to speak in 1995, but had to reschedule to come back two years later. There was speculation that he would be running for presidency during his initial scheduling and already had a great deal on his plate.
A few years later, astronaut Jerry Linenger spoke at the 1999 Convocation, and Heier said he had an influence on students and on residents of St. Joseph alike.
“Linenger was somebody that the students especially responded to,” Heier said.
Though Heier emphasizes the importance of the Convocation, biology major Mictchell Bembrick feels the Convocation is unnecessary.
“During that time for the issues they speak of, I could be getting food or studying,” Bembrick said. “As for T. Boone Pickens, I have no idea who he even is.”
Heier offered reasons for reactions such as this.
“There’s the old saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.’ We can only provide the opportunity.” Heier said. “Our hope would be that people are at Missouri Western to learn, not just in the classroom.”
Heier hopes that students will take advantage of these types of opportunities to step beyond the classroom and learn just a little bit more about the world around them.
Some students do actually enjoy the speeches.
“I went last year for the speaker himself, Thomas Freedman,” marketing major Jason Mullin said. “The subject matter that he was talking about was kind of important to me. It reflected on some information I was studying in a few of my classes.”
Another important part in the history of Convocation is the choir.
When Frank Thomas, former director of Choral Activities, received a phone call to participate during the first Convocation, he jumped on board.
Each year, since that first convocation in 1993, the choir has sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Western’s alma mater.
Four years ago, Dr. David Benz, current Director of Choral Activities, took over to lead the choir in the Convocation.
During this four-year period, Benz has made a few changes to the convocation choir. Two years ago, the women’s chorus was started and combined with the original choir. Last year, the men’s chorus was started and also implemented into the Convocation’s choir showing.
“I think it’s wonderful for those guests across the nation and the region to get to come to Missouri Western and hear our choir,” Benz said. “Getting to hear a full choral arrangement of the national anthem is not a typical thing.”