Djola Branner, associate professor of theatre
Good morning class of 2011! How ya’ll doing?
My people, my people. I'm particularly honored to deliver the faculty toast this year because like most of you my journey at Hampshire began in the fall of 2007.
It seems like only yesterday that I walked into Emily Dickinson Hall (EDH to those in the know) to teach my first class. “Good morning. My name is Djola. Welcome to… How's that? Yes, that’s how you pronounce it. The ‘D’ is silent… Welcome to ‘Opening the Instrument: An Introduction to Acting.’ We’ll be examining and applying principles of performance to contemporary monologues and scenes, developing techniques such as relaxation and focus, sense memory, physical awareness, vocal expression and improvisation.”
I muttered a few words about my training and experience (which I soon discovered was unnecessary because everybody in the room had googled me –– there ARE no secrets – and then I looked into a sea of eager, although somewhat dumbfounded faces, and invited students to introduce themselves.
“Uh, yeah. My name is uh… wow. This is acting? I thought opening the instrument would be like, you know, hollowing out a tree to make a drum, or carving a flute.”
And in that moment, like the iconic character from The Wizard of Oz, I realized I was not in Kansas anymore.
Like many of you I could have used a roadmap to navigate the unique world which is Hampshire. The maze of acronyms alone could baffle the most accomplished explorer.
Between EDH, FPH, CBD, CDL, CS (which is now CSI, not to be confused with the TV series), and CYL, CEL (formerly known as community service), NS, SS, IA (which is short for Institutional Advancement as well the School for Interdisciplinary Arts), MCP or R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me, and all the cute little catchphrases like ISIS, ASH, GEO, HACU (also known as HACK-CUE), and DART and SAGA and CASA (which has nothing to do with the Spanish word for home) and CORC and FIZZ PLANT and EPEC and OPRA (which is not to be confused with the institution known as Ms. Winfrey!) But I digress…
Suffice it to say, our unique experimenting liberal arts college has a language all its own, and together we have deciphered its idiosyncratic symbols. And I do mean together. As I have taught you, you have taught me. You have generously translated the meanings of popular expressions like OMG, LOL and BFF, and after introducing me to that strange cultural phenomenon known as Facebook, many of you have friended me. Our frank discussions in classrooms, committee meetings, hallways, during harried walks between lectures and performances, and even occasionally over meals at Fresh Side and Am Chi, have broadened my perceptions of everything from philosophy to art making to religion to science and mathematics… well, maybe not science and math; I've left those discourses to colleagues more versed in those peculiar languages –– but our exchanges have enlivened, challenged and rewarded me. I have relished the opportunity to facilitate your learning, to watch you push the boundaries of your own training and experience, hone your interests and passions, take ownership of your distinctive educations, and to cite scholarly and artistic references only to systematically dismantle them. I have watched with pride and joy as you formed your own points of view, developed singular approaches as artists, scholars and yes, even developed as teachers in your own right.
Ultimately, I have watched you embody –– sometimes peacefully, and sometimes kicking and screaming –– the wisdom set forth in our college policy: NON SATIS NON SCIRE. Indeed, it is NOT enough not to know.
One of the wisest men I knew as an undergrad was a professor by the name of Alan Sable. He taught sociology at a little experimenting college very much like this one known as UCSC. I know, I know –– more acronyms. UCSC was UC Santa Cruz to some, Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp to those in the know… but I digress. On the first day of Alan’s very popular undergraduate seminar “Sociology of Men” he said: “Most people in our culture die by the time they reach thirty. Not physically of course, but intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. They stop questioning the world, and more importantly their position in it.”
I don't know that Alan meant that observation as a compass to chart the course of our lives, but it has served me well. Time and again I have renewed a personal pledge to remain curious about the world, and always, always to examine my own assumptions and intentions.
My sincere wish for each of you is that you will honor the amazing journey which you have BEGUN at Hampshire. As you return to your communities, neighborhoods and families, as you venture into new ones, know that your minds and imaginations have shifted, and so have the possibilities in each of your lives. Know that by continuing to cultivate your curiosity –– about the world and yourselves –– you will not only stay alive, but by example will inspire everyone you encounter to do the same.
On behalf of my colleagues, I applaud your courage, tenacity, ingenuity, resilience, creativity, your facilities for collaboration and entrepreneurship, and most significantly your unwavering willingness to question. Thank you for teaching us as we have taught you, class of 2011. Congratulations. Well done, well done.
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