Wheelock College formally opened its doors for the 2015-2016 academic year on September 1 with a Convocation Ceremony featuring an address by Matthew Salesses, author of the novel The Hundred-Year Flood. In his remarks, Salesses discussed the Convocation theme of "Belonging and Identity in America," a theme which runs through both his novel and Wheelock's summer reading assignment, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The two authors experience different journeys, yet both speak similarly regarding the struggle of understanding themselves and where they belong in America.
Convocation is Latin for "coming together," and this important Wheelock tradition is part of a day of learning for the campus, with special activities planned for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the larger community. All incoming students read Americanah prior to arriving on campus, discussed the book in small faculty- and staff-led discussion groups prior to the Convocation Ceremony, and will continue the conversations throughout their first-year courses.
Welcome to Wheelock
President Jenkins-Scott greeted with the Wheelock Community and reflected on the very busy and wonderfully rewarding past few weeks. "This has been an amazing few weeks for Wheelock. Two weeks ago, we welcomed 65 Summer Bridge students to campus for an exceptional academic experience. We also welcomed nearly 90 new and returning athletes, and 60 student leaders." Jenkins-Scott encouraged students to think on the importance of creating one's own narrative, which was a theme during orientation. "Today, we have the great honor of discussing the themes evoked in our summer reading assignment, Americanah and hearing from our excellent Convocation speaker, Matthew Salesses on how the themes from Americanah and his novel intersect with our Convocation themes of belonging and identity. Each of our narratives adds richness and texture to our explorations and are important personal tools as we navigate our experiences here at Wheelock and in the complex world we inhabit."
Samantha "Sam" Summers, president of the Student Government Association, spoke on how the earth's four essential elements of earth, air, water, and fire apply to college. "Your first year [earth] is about finding your footing, it's okay to struggle." Her advice to the incoming students is that Wheelock will equip you with all these elements needed to be successful and suggests that students find a way to "master chaos."
Presidential Award Winner
President Jenkins-Scott introduced the recipient of the first Presidential Award for Student Scholarship, Renée Saleh '15 BSW. One of the accomplishments of The Campaign for Wheelock, which raised a record breaking $82 million dollars in support of Wheelock, was the establishment of the Presidential Scholarship Award to be given annually at Commencement to a graduating senior who has demonstrated exceptional academic accomplishments.
During his Convocation speech, Matthew Salesses he shared his upbringing as a Korean adoptee of white parents and reflected on the value of diversity, "When we value diversity for its otherness, we're devaluing it," he said. He cautioned about the "The Danger of a Single Story" narrative- idea is that, in some cases, one story becomes the accepted (or only visible) version among many, and the persistence of stereotype and singular model can be extremely damaging to a person's sense of self, truth, and empathy. He challenged student to see race and to change how they see race. "Remake yourself within the world you live in and you will remake the world."
In his most recent book, The Hundred-Year Flood, Salesses weaves together the tangled threads of identity, love, growing up, and relationships. He has written for a wide range of venues, including NPR, The New York Times, Salon, the Center for Asian American Media, The Toast, and The Good Men Project, and has been featured on WGBH, Al Jazeera America, OPB, Tribune Media Services, TWiB, and elsewhere. He has received awards and fellowships from the Breadloaf Writers' Conference, Inprint, the University of Houston, Emerson College, Glimmer Train, Mid-American Review, and [PANK]. His previous books include I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying (a novel) and Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity (essays).
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah received the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, was selected as one of the 10 Best Books of 2013 by the New York Times Book Review, and was shortlisted for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction of the United Kingdom. This contemporary interpretation of a coming-of-age novel is a powerful, tender story of race and identity.