At this point in 2020, most people are accustomed to experiencing unprecedented events. Unprecedented is a word we’ve all heard many times, and now can describe this year’s convocation at Castleton University.
With Castleton’s coronavirus guidelines – the Spartan Pledge – eliminating the possibility large crowds, convocation was presented in a video that premiered on the university’s YouTube channel last Friday.
The video opened with the traditional performance of Castleton’s Alma Mater, although this year the members of CU’s Chorale were masked and socially distanced in the pavilion. As the song came to a close, Interim President Jonathan Spiro appeared on the screen to give his opening remarks.
“Convocation is a time-honored ritual in which we all gather together at the beginning of the semester to welcome everyone and officially launch the new academic year,” he said.
It was not long before Spiro’s witty nature took over.
“Convocation comes from the Latin root convocatus, meaning ‘15-minute video that costs nothing to produce and takes the place of a really expensive barbecue,’” he said.
Both Spiro and Andre Fleche, president of the faculty assembly, echoed a message of thanks and appreciation for those who worked tirelessly to ensure a smooth and safe semester.
“Our amazing faculty and staff, and coaches, and fantastic custodians have put in thousands of hours making plans, developing policies, ordering equipment, reconfiguring the campus and going through many hours of training,” Spiro said.
Fleche credited professors with meeting weekly in working groups to facilitate remote learning and create the best possible online classes. He applauded facilities workers for keeping campus beautiful and reconfiguring academic buildings to meet covid-19 guidelines.
He also spoke highly of the new interim president as he welcomed Spiro to his new position.
“Dr. Spiro is a talented educator, scholar and administrator. He needs no introduction here at Castleton, but he richly deserves our thanks,” Fleche said. “Dr. Spiro stepped up to lead in perhaps the most challenging time imaginable and I know we’re in good hands.”
Fleche also expressed his understanding of how difficult it is to not be together, especially considering how the Castleton Way has brought the community even closer together for many years.
“This university prides itself on … close personal relationships, student-faculty interaction and the support of a caring community,” he said.
Campus is certainly quieter than usual. There are very few in-person classes, and Spiro said in the video there are only 350 students living in the residence halls. The rest of the student population is learning virtually from home.
He also noted Castleton’s enrollment this year is about 1,800 students.
Adam Murray, vice president of the Campus Activities Board and the student speaker for convocation, is one of the students on campus. To him, what makes Castleton special is the people he’s met, and he gave his advice on how to meet new people.
“Self-plug – join CAB, join congress. It’s the easiest way to get involved because there’s so many different types of people, you’re bound to meet someone you’ll click with,” he said.
Murray also suggested meeting people within their academic programs and on-campus jobs.
“It’s always worth a shot. You’re not legally bound to any club so try different things out, branch out, meet different people. It’s really just a great campus,” he said.
The video made its way back to Spiro, this time casually dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with sunglasses atop his head, for closing remarks. He addressed the traditional barbecue, or luau as he called it, which usually takes place in the backyard of the president’s house.
“Right over there we roast a theater professor over hot coals on a turning spit. Unfortunately, this year the Spartan Pledge prohibits eating faculty with tenure,” Spiro said.
Convocation has always been an important part of the Castleton tradition. It’s a ceremony in which attendance by everyone in the Spartan community is highly encouraged. All classes are normally canceled for it.
It was much different this year, as are many aspects of campus. Fleche hopes people will come to appreciate these traditional events they are missing this semester as we live in the pandemic.
“The challenges we’ve faced this year have shown us our strength when we work together and also remind us of the things we sometimes forget to appreciate when we’re all here in person,” he said.