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Convocation Essays

Convocation and The College Reads! are important focal points for each year’s incoming class.

The College’s convocation welcomes new students to the liberal arts and sciences community and encourages them to consider their own intellectual journey. This occasion also serves to familiarize incoming students with the College’s academic traditions as well as the institution’s history, symbols and mottos.

Convocation Essay Information

The essay information for the Class of 2022 will be posted in June 2018

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Faculty Letter to #CofC2021

November 2, 2017

Dear Class of 2021:

Your responses to Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst collected at Convocation captured its urgency on a global scale and its relevance to the many places that we call home--including your new home at the College of Charleston. During your first months at the College you have experienced the effects of too much water--a September hurricane and frequent tidal flooding in the streets--even as you’ve watched a drought-stricken West coast ravaged by fires. The activism of Flint, Michigan residents exposed the nation to the consequences of contaminated water systems, something highlighted locally by investigations of water quality in Mt. Pleasant. But water is also beautiful; Charleston’s beaches and waterways may have attracted you to the College. These dual experiences of apprehension and awe have perhaps given new meaning to Fishman’s sentiment that “water is both mythic and real.”

As Fishman writes, “There is no global water crisis, because all water problems are local, or regional, and their solutions must be local. There is no global water crisis, there are a thousand water crises, each distinct” (301). Many of your essays demonstrated an awareness of the local water issues evident in your hometown communities.  These local experiences stretch across our state from water quality issues in Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant and the Reedy River in the Upstate to ongoing recovery from the flooding of Hurricane Matthew in Conway, Florence, and Nichols. The experiences also reached out across the country encompassing major cities (Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Austin, Wilmington) and well-known waterways (Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, Narragansett Bay, Baltimore Harbor). In describing your local situations, we saw a desire to engage with these issues through further research and proposals for solutions. As one of you wrote, “The ultimate goal is to change an attitude of selfishness to one of community and to revamp our understanding of water and ways to use it smartly throughout a community and throughout the world.” A first step to getting involved with local water communities and enacting solutions might be through an organization like Charleston Waterkeeper.

We were impressed by the range of media we saw in the visual interpretations of water crises that you produced--examples of which are on display in the library and in Stern Center lobby. We encountered projects composed on the screen as infographics and photo remixes; projects composed in paint on canvas; hand-drawn interpretations inscribed on paper; and 3D objects and collages made using a variety of materials: cardboard, plastic bottles, magazine clippings, and miniatures. Your compelling use of materials to interpret Fishman’s book prompted us to think about other local efforts to bring to consciousness the detrimental effects of current water practices. The Halsey Institute--in collaboration with the Charleston Aquarium and various College offices--is currently hosting a series of exhibitions called Sea Change that run until December 9th (halsey.cofc.edu/main-exhibitions/sea-change/). Like your own projects, the Sea Change exhibits showcase the effects of humanity’s destructive practices: specifically, the enormity of a global plastic waste problem.

Beyond the materials and approaches you used to engage with the book, we saw a collective faith among the members of our first-year class that conversation and collective action can make a difference. We noticed that many of you called for action within government agencies and among citizens to come to solutions. Although everyday solutions like the conservation of water by individuals can feel counterintuitive given the enormous scope of the problem, we saw a resounding sense that “business as usual” exacerbates already-real crises. The College agrees with you; thus you will find reusable water filling stations on campus and you may attend zero waste events. A rain barrel water collection system is located behind Political Science and students will build another near the center of campus in the spring. The Student Government Association is circulating a petition to ban plastic water bottle sales on campus. You may want to become more involved in this and other SGA-sponsored initiatives.

In conclusion, nearly all of you agreed that water is important and that we take it for granted at our own peril. As one of you wrote, “The future of water is in our hands and action starts by educating others.”  Perhaps the most enduring lesson that many of you took from The Big Thirst is the need to develop empathy and awareness. “At this point,” one of you wrote, “it’s just part of our daily lives to be blind to the amount of water that we deplete. I am guilty of this as well and did not realize the gravity of the situation until it was pointed out to me.” While taking shorter showers relieves the strain on Charleston’s water-processing facilities, it is equally important not to take clean showers for granted. Much of the world doesn’t have them. Cleaning up local waterways is important; but awareness of how polluted rivers like the Ganges are helps us see the scope of the global problem.

As informed, newly water-literate students, we are confident in your ability to work toward change. We hope you will join us for “An Evening with Charles Fishman,” on Tuesday November 7th at 7:00pm in Sottile Theatre and continue the exchange of ideas we started in our conversations at Convocation in August.

Sincerely,

Your CofC Faculty

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