On Thursday, September 4th, Dr. Daniel Gilbert addressed around 1,250 members of the Macalester community for opening convocation. His talk, entitled “Stumbling on Happiness,” sought to reexamine three aspects of life which are commonly thought to be sources of happiness. Or, as Gilbert put it, the three things which his mother says are the source of happiness: marriage, money and kids.
While attendance was high, some students seemed unsatisfied by Gilbert’s address. His speaking was engaging, but many found it hard to relate to the issues he brought up.
“He kept talking about how the three main categories are marriage, money and children, and I thought eventually he was going to stray off of that and make it more applicable to students’ lives,” Stephanie Martinez ’17 said. “At this point in our life, we kind of have none of those things: we aren’t going to get married, have lots of money, or have kids anytime soon.”
Professors and staff may have found the substance of Gilbert’s talk more relevant to their lives.
“Talking about happiness lends itself very easily to a fun, engaging talk,” Vittorio Addona said. “But, in my opinion, a big message in [Gilbert’s] talk was that we all form opinions about a variety of things, some from experiences, some from intuition.”
Addona, a statistics professor, found this discussion of the relationship between intuition and data important.
“When the two agree, everyone feels good. When they don’t agree, we should of course make sure that analyses were performed correctly and that bias was not introduced,” Addona said. “But beyond that, we should question our intuitions in the face of contradictory data.”
In fact, President Brian Rosenberg offered a similar challenge to the Macalester community at the start of the event.
“We should aspire to the goal of embracing facts even where they make us uncomfortable,” Rosenberg said.
Despite issues some students took with the subject of his talk, most acknowledged that Gilbert’s address was engaging and noted that they were able to find something to take away from the event.
“While the subject of the talk may not have been applicable to convocation and its purpose, I enjoyed the event and would have gone to hear [Gilbert] speak even if it hadn’t been convocation,” Laura Abril ‘17 said.
Overall, the administration views this year’s opening convocation as a success. Despite issues with the subject of Gilbert’s talk for students, the large proportion of the Macalester community that showed up means that the event served its purpose.
“The goal is to get as many of our community members together at the beginning of the year in a place where you can look around and see who the other members of this community [are] that you are living in, you can see who they are,” Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre said. “Community becomes pretty important.”
Convocation dubbed “First Thursday”
This year marked the beginning of a push by the administration to make opening convocation more consistent and strengthen its place as a tradition at Macalester.
“We’ve had opening convocation as a tradition for about 20 years, but it hasn’t been consistent,” Hamre said. “Some years it has even been two weeks after we started classes. Sometimes we have speakers who come from off campus and sometimes we don’t. It’s been hard for people to imagine that it’s a tradition.”
To address this inconsistency, the college has decided that convocation will be held on the first Thursday after classes start, attaching “First Thursday” as a tagline to opening convocation.
“The ‘First Thursday’ concept really comes from President Rosenberg,” Hamre said. “Convocation sometimes sounds a little stuffy. We will now have convocation the first Thursday of classes every year, instead of sometimes having it two weeks in. We hope that this [year’s event] will set us up for success next year. Daniel Gilbert’s name and his topic was the reason we had a full house. That was a huge draw for faculty students and staff.”