The University’s Fall Convocation was held on Friday, Oct. 6. Awards and honors were announced, and 337 new members were inducted into the Order of the Gown. Noted architect Malcolm Holzman, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, C’69, and the country's 19th poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey, were awarded honorary degrees. Bishop Robinson delivered the convocation address.
V. Gene Robinson was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, becoming the church’s first openly gay and partnered bishop. After a decade serving as bishop of New Hampshire, he worked as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, speaking and writing on national and international LGBTQ issues, race, poverty, and immigration reform. Most recently, he served as vice president of religion and senior pastor at Chautauqua Institution in western New York. In his retirement, he is serving as a part of the worship team at the Washington National Cathedral. Robinson graduated from Sewanee in 1969 with a bachelor’s degree in history. In 1973, he earned a master of divinity degree at the General Theological Seminary in New York.
In his convocation address, Bishop Robinson started by honoring the Indigenous people of the world, urging those gathered to learn from past sins and to be instruments of justice and peace for all God’s children. He went on to acknowledge the important part that Sewanee played in his life and ministry while also recognizing the challenges he faced as a closeted gay man in the late 1960s.
Bishop Robinson shared some of what he has learned in the 54 years since he graduated from Sewanee. “There is nothing any of us can do to cause God to stop loving us,” he said. “Nothing. With the assurance and confidence which come from that, there is almost nothing you can’t do.”
Robinson then challenged students to stand for justice by stepping out of their comfort zones to advocate for all marginalized people —women, people of color, the poor, the disabled, immigrants, asylum seekers, and the LGBTQ community—making clear that real contributions to humankind require uncertainty and risk. “In the quest for justice, there are no innocent observers. You're either working for justice or, by intent or apathy, you are working against it. It is one or the other. You must choose,” he said, calling students to action and providing concrete wisdom on how to do God’s work on earth.
Following the address, Sofie Behr, president of the Order of the Gown, offered the soon-to-be inducted members her multifaceted vision of what it means to be a member of the order. While she acknowledged that the gown represents academic achievement, Behr also urged members to also consider the gown be "an important symbol of symbol hope and our enduring pursuit of what Sewanee could be". She continued, "Know that the gown represents your commitment to this place and to promoting the traditions and values of the institution that means so much to each of us." Behr then read the names of each new member as they stood to be recognized before leaving All Saints’ Chapel to be formally gowned in front of their families and friends.
When everyone had reconvened in the Quad, the alma mater was sung and Vice-Chancellor Pearigen formally admitted the new members to the Order of the Gown. Students and families enjoyed a picnic celebrating Family Weekend and the achievements of their students.