By Robert Beeland
On January 11, Sewanee held its Opening Convocation for the 2016 Easter Semester. The university bestowed three honorary degrees upon a diverse selection of candidates and admitted 109 new students into the Order of the Gownsmen. The chilly Monday afternoon welcomed members of Sewanee’s extended family to witness the ceremony and to hear the remarks of Dr. Leon Botstein, the President of Bard College.
In addition to his role as the President of the Annandale-On-Hudson, New York school, Botstein boasts titles as the music director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra and as a renowned musicologist. After being named the President of Franconia College at the age of twenty-three, Botstein accepted the same position at Bard in 1975.
In his remarks at Convocation, he poked fun at Sewanee’s “resistance to fashion” and discussed the value of a liberal arts education in spite of the perceived public notion of its uselessness.
Honorary Degrees were also conferred upon the Rt. Rev. Brian R. Seage and Dr. James Engell. Seage was named Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi in 2015. He also is a self-professed Grateful Dead fanatic (and can be followed on Twitter at the username @RtRevDeadHead). Dr. Engell, the Gurney Professor of English at Harvard, has authored several books concerned with the relationship between literature and the environment.
Following Botstein’s address, Vice Chancellor McCardell admitted the new gownsmen into the University’s storied Order in a moment described by Rev. Macfie as “delightful chaos.”
Shiro Burnette (C ’18), an Arcadian Co-Director and new member of the Order of the Gownsmen, was eager to begin wearing his gown to class, calling it an “honor.”
Meanwhile, Olivia Deck (C ’18) bemoaned the fact that “no one wears their gowns in any of my classes… it’s kind of sad because it’s such a good tradition.” Deck did also mention her need to don her gown more often: “I paid good money for it; I ought to wear it.”
Nevertheless, to paraphrase Order of the Gownsmen President Alec Hill’s (C’16) address, the gown remains a tradition of the utmost importance to the student body.