In front of a packed audience, English professor and acclaimed novelist Marlon James gave his First Thursday speech on September 1 to welcome the Macalester community to the new year. To open the event, President Brian Rosenberg, Chaplain Kelly Stone, Provost and Dean of Faculty Karine Moe and Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) President Merrit Stüven ’17 also spoke.
Chaplain Kelly Stone came to the podium first, offering an invocation to begin the event; she spoke of a “holy relationship between truth, justice and peace.”
Following Stone, President Rosenberg discussed Macalester’s place in the larger global context. He reiterated the idea that Macalester is a unique community that can be a place of support in the midst of violence occurring around the world and here in the U.S.
“It’s okay if there are times when you feel angry, frightened or frustrated… Don’t pretend that the feelings don’t exist,” Rosenberg said, emphasizing the support available on campus. He then moved into talking about the future, and how Macalester students can impact that future. “You will get to live in a world that will be created by your generation.”
In this discussion of the future, much to the amusement of the audience, President Rosenberg revealed political undertones as he noted that we should reject xenophobia, racism and people who do not “accept the reality of truth.”
Most of all though, Rosenberg stressed that Macalester students must “create a world that those who follow [them] will want to live in.”
President Rosenberg’s speech was followed by Stüven. She spoke briefly about MCSG’s organizational goals for the upcoming year, as well as her own personal initiatives.
Last year, MCSG underwent an external evaluation to determine things it is doing well as a student government and ways it can improve moving forward. Naturally, most of the focus this year has been on what it needs to improve.
To start, MCSG is creating the MCSG cabinet, which will be composed of the sustainability, diversity and community engagement officers. This year will be a trial period for the cabinet to see if it is an effective change in the areas MCSG is hoping to improve.
Also, there will be a strategic plan over the next three years, so that the class of 2020 can evaluate the progress of MCSG before they graduate.
As far as Stüven’s personal initiatives, she is hoping to bring to fruition a test-optional policy for Macalester admissions, citing some of the disadvantages associated with standardized testing as an admissions requirement.
Marlon James followed Stüven’s speech as the main event of the afternoon. He spoke about the power of books to help you place yourself within the larger world, both in terms of understanding yourself and your surroundings.
“Books will disrupt your life; they will throw you off course,” James said.
He talked about how novels about corruption in the Philippines made him understand his own home in Jamaica better than any other book ever had.
“This novel from the outside made me understand home,” James remarked.
This statement seemed to resonate with students as well, many of whom thought it was particularly poignant that a Macalester professor was speaking.
“I think [what I really loved about his speech] was just how personal it was; it was more like a conversation. Also [I loved] how intersectional [it was] and when he talked about how a book that was commenting on the Phillippines wholly encapsulated his experience in Jamaica. I thought that was really cool because at the end of the day we are all just trying to connect with one another,” Zeam Porter ’20 said.