Convocation Welcome by Robert W. Hill III

Welcome to students, faculty, parents, trustees, and honored guests.  It’s not as cold as it was at graduation the last time we were all gathered together here.

It is great seeing all of Williston here this afternoon and thank you Mrs. Fulcher for bringing the classes of 2018 and 2019 over.

As Swanee urged us, tonight’s Convocation allows us to consider this time as one of transitions and a time to embrace possibilities and change.  For me, as I’ve said during opening assembly, the fall is my favorite time of the year since we are all adjusting to new surroundings, friends, classes, teams, dormitories, and new goals, whether internally or externally motivated. As the poet Ezra Pound said in one of my favorite quotes, “Make it new, day by day.”

You have already been about this task of transitioning for a week now, and I hope Williston has exceeded your expectations and fallen short of your fears.  Today marks our first green week of 2013, and while I am not counting the number of blue and green weeks left in the year, I know Maddie Stern already has time until graduation counting down on an app…

Since experiencing a wonderful family trip this summer to Panama, the sight of ships “transiting” through the canal is one that has lodged with me, along with some other memories like spinning out of control on a zip line 100 feet up in a rain forest canopy, or that sinking feeling you have when the open seat next to you on the plane gets taken by somebody who falls asleep slumping into your personal space.  You know the feeling.

The indelible image, though, of seeing mammoth container ships squeezing into the locks on the Pacific side of the canal is one that I will not soon forget. It continues to provoke reflection.  With only inches to spare on either side, these massive 800 foot long ships slip into what looks like a giant steel tank before 26 million gallons of water from the Chagres river take over and floats these “Titanics” up 28 feet at a time.

Here are a couple of observations:  even though there are railroad engines alongside the canals with cables helping to guide the vessels, they are still operating under their own power as they move through the locks and into the canal; also, we learned that the only time a ship’s captain ever voluntarily gives up command of his/her vessel is here in the Panama Canal when a special Panamanian pilot takes over.  The entire time to cross the Isthmus takes about 10 hours.  Since the United States handed over control of the canal to Panama under President Carter’s initiative, our Central American neighbor of 4 million people controls a sizeable proportion of the world’s shipping.

So I have been thinking about this amazing interplay of human ingenuity and colossal machines and transnational cooperation —and think there’s a metaphor relating to the transit, or passage, that each of you takes this year.  You are all under your own power, and your passage, from one ocean of possibilities to another is steadily guided by your teachers, coaches, and advisers.  Whole new horizons will appear on your improbable transit if you are thoughtful, purposeful, and willing to enlist the assistance of others—so please be open to the endless possibilities that stretch before you.



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