September 17, 2009

Emmanuel Officially Opens School Year with 91st Academic Convocation

Emmanuel College held its Academic Convocation ceremony on September 15th in the Jean Yawkey Center gymnasium. Jonah Lehrer, Rhodes Scholar, Contributing Editor at Wired and the author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist, which was summer reading for Emmanuel's first-year students, was this year's speaker.

Emmanuel's Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Frank Scully opened the ceremony by welcoming not only Emmanuel students, faculty and staff, but also guests of the College, including students from Emmanuel's partner school, Mission Grammar. Emmanuel students Susanna Derby '10 and Meredith Mulcahy '10, along with Special Instructor of Performance Arts and Music Coordinator Timothy Evans, performed an opening song followed by a prayer read by Student Government Association President Amanda Donegan '10.

During the President's remarks, Sister Janet Eisner, SND informed the audience about the history of convocations, which serve to remind colleges of their missions at the start of the academic year. She said that Emmanuel has stayed true to its mission "to educate students in a dynamic learning community rooted in the liberal arts and sciences and shaped by strong ethical values and a catholic intellectual tradition," since the earliest years of the College.

"It was 90 years ago this month when the Sisters of Notre Dame opened Emmanuel College," she said. "As the banners along the Fenway note, we are celebrating 90 years of transformation, innovation, mission, excellence and of purpose."

Sister Janet continued by recognizing the Emmanuel students, class by class. She encouraged members of the senior class to continue searching for personal fulfillment, juniors to continue experiencing the real world through internships, study abroad and community service, the sophomore class representatives to remain focused as they declare their allegiance to a particular area of study, and the freshmen to begin to make an imprint on Emmanuel.

She also highlighted the new and updated facilities, such as the Maureen Murphy Wilkens Science Center, Roberto Clemente Field and the upcoming opening of the renovated art department, before introducing guest speaker Lehrer, who spoke about the larger connections between art and science.

"What appropriate timing to have such a prominent scholar in science speak to the Emmanuel community as we open our new Wilkens Science Center," she said.

Lehrer offered three pieces of advice to the audience. The first was to be an "outsider," as he encouraged students to explore the empty spaces between disciplines and to force themselves to experiment with new ways of looking at the world.

"Once we get outside of the intellectual box we can finally see what the real problem is," he said.

The second piece of advice was to "daydream." Rather than play video games, text message or surf the Internet, Lehrer encouraged students to lie down, listen to music and daydream. He pointed out that daydreaming is a crucial mental skill and that people who daydream more often score higher on tests of creativity.

Lehrer's final words of wisdom were to "learn how to relax." He discussed "moments of insight" where the relaxed mind easily comes upon a solution to a problem by feeling comfortable enough to look inward where the answer lies. While in a relaxed state, the mind experiences "alpha waves," which are moments of relaxation that bring with them moments of insight where mental connections are made. He encouraged the audience to concentrate on letting the mind wander.

"When we are trying to solve the really, really hard problems, it is the unexpected connections that are often the solution," he said.

He concluded his address by reminding students to take full advantage of their time at Emmanuel.

"Enjoy these next few years. I wish someone had told me this while I was still in college," said Lehrer. "You have the best job in the world right now. The only thing you have to do is learn."