Convocation: making an impact

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By: Christian Sarna

In times where fear itself can look like a strong opponent, what is worth striving for? According to convocation speaker Jon Meacham, we should strive for impacts of all sizes.

A historian with a diverse range of accomplishments, Meacham spoke about America’s historical potential to move beyond division for the 26th annual R. Dan Boulware Convocation on Critical Issues on Thursday in the Looney Complex.

Missouri Western’s annual convocation is an enrichment opportunity for students and the community to consider key issues of the time. Past speakers have included Newt Gingrich, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Martin Luther King III. 

Meacham is a Pulitzer-Prize winner, a distinguished professor at Vanderbilt University and the official presidential biographer to former President George H. W. Bush. His most recent book, “Songs of America,” was written with country music singer Tim McGraw and is a New York Times best seller.

Meacham said that while it might seem like we are in an era of extreme chaos with no clear end, we are not the first to feel that way. He said that this did not negate the severity of current issues such as climate change, economic growth and political unrest, but could serve as reassurance that healing and rebuilding is possible.

“We are in a maelstrom of the present,” Meacham said. “The important thing to remember is that we are always in a maelstrom.” 

According to Meacham, people must strive to create a common ground upon which those across the political spectrum can discuss critical issues. Key to building this common ground would be a focus on honest curiosity and empathy.

“Without empathy, the republican experiment falls apart,” Meacham said. “If we don’t listen to each other and at least allow a possibility that you might change my mind or I might change yours, no critical issue is ever going to be solved.”

R. Dan Boulware, the former president of the Board of Regents and namesake of the convocation, said that he hoped all in attendance would consider their role in addressing the challenges discussed.

“Your education must expand beyond the classroom,” Boulware said. “You need to be challenged to be civically and actively involved in your communities. When you leave college, you’re either going to be a player or a spectator. We need players to take on the challenges we face today.” 

Boulware said that students should ask themselves what they aspire to do and make an effort to lift others up.

“It starts with all of us trying to be more tolerant of one another and entertaining diverse views,” Boulware said. “It’s a matter of being respectful of one another. Respect will go a long way in healing.”

President Matthew Wilson said that he hoped those in attendance would come away from the event with a belief that they could create positive change in their communities. 

“What we need as a society is being able to come together and have empathy for one another, having open minds and finding out different ways that we can individually impact others,” Wilson said. “I think it was just a great message for our students to hear.”

One student in attendance for this convocation was Paul Granberry III. Granberry was a member of the platform party as the Missouri Western student governor on the board of governors. While this convocation is the last before he graduates in December, Granberry said he hopes that next year’s speaker will encourage students to perform their civic duty.

“2020 is an election year, it’s a crucial year,” Granberry said. “I just want to see a speaker that is able to influence the students to vote.” 

As an assistant history professor at Missouri Western, Dominic DeBrincat said that he appreciated Meacham’s uniquely optimistic perspective in the face of current crises.

“His message was steeped in the constant quest to find meaning,” DeBrincat said. “When we live through a crisis, we live the crisis. What I really liked about his speech is that he said, ‘Let’s not focus on the crisis as much as how we have gotten out of these crises before.’” 

Emily Gioielli, another assistant professor of history, agreed that an optimistic perspective based on America’s history of rebuilding was important.

“We may feel a sense of existential crisis now,” Gioielli said. “It can help just on an emotional level to put things in proportion. It’s an age of anxiety, but other people have felt that before.”

Visit jonmeacham.com to learn more about the speaker and missouriwestern.edu/convocation/ for more information about previous convocation presenters.