Sylvia Earle encourages gowned students to go “Onwards and Gownwards”

Dr. Sylvia Earle addresses All Saints’ Chapel during Foundation Day Convocation. Photos By Matthew Hembree (C’20).

By Richard Pryor III
Executive Staff

Dr. Sylvia Earle, the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, and Dr. John Lewis Ford were front and center of the Foundation Day Convocation on September 20, receiving honorary degrees from the University as over 300 students received their gowns.

Earle, an oceanographer and marine biologist, offered the Convocation Address in which she encouraged students to use their powers of knowledge to save the planet, referring to them as “superheroes.”

Discussing her experience with climate science, Earle focused her speech on the rapid changing of the planet’s climate due to humanity’s actions. “If you looked around here 1,000 years ago, 500, or 50 years ago – it would look very different,” she offered, urging students to find a way to reverse the effects of climate change.  She closed her comments by reversing the astronauts’ motto of “onwards and upwards” and the submariners’ motto of “onwards and downwards” to forge a new one for the students gowned that day – “onwards and gownwards.”

After her speech, Order of the Gown President Nellie Fagan (C’20) and Vice-Chancellor John McCardell presided over the induction of over 300 students across the realm of upperclassmen to the Order. McCardell, in his speech, drew parallels between the induction of the new members and the University’s celebration of 50 years of coeducation, remarking on the anniversary and that Earle, a distinguished female academic and researcher served as the speaker. 

Vice-Chancellor John McCardell welcomes new members of the Order of the Gown.

Molly Morgan (C’22), who received her gown at the Convocation from Professor of Classics and Ancient Christianity Paul Holloway, said that “being gowned was such an amazing experience,” noting that it was “something my friends and I made as a goal when we first came to Sewanee as something we would strive to achieve together. Finally putting the gown on and being surrounded by my friends and family was such a happy and wonderful experience.”

As an upperclassman, Gracen Kelly (C’20) felt the ceremony was more meaningful after having experienced Sewanee for three years. Gowned by her long-time friend Caroline Martin (C’20) Kelly said, “I kept tearing up during the ceremony and was so happy to start my senior year with something so crucial to Sewanee culture. It was a really beautiful moment.” 

Students graciously receive their gowns.