Dating back to the reopening of Wake Forest’s doors in 1868 following the end of the Civil War, the Senior Colloquium is a tried-and-true tradition. It is a celebration of student oratory excellence and scholastic competition, in which 35 of Wake Forest’s seniors are nominated to write an essay on a critique of culture or insight gained in their undergraduate years. From these 35 submitted essays, a panel of faculty judges selects 10 to be read at the Colloquium.
This year’s Colloquium was held on Wednesday Feb. 7 in Pugh Auditorium. Three of the essays will be selected to be read at the Founder’s Day Convocation on Feb. 15. Out of these three orations, a final speaker and essay will be selected to speak at the Honors and Awards Ceremony for graduating seniors, their families and friends.
The opening remarks of the Colloquium were headed by Provost Rogan Kersh, who reflected on the rich tradition of the Colloquium in Wake Forest’s history. He shared a brief anecdote from his time in the shoes of the orators seated in the first row, speaking about how he read his oration, “Building Community at Wake Forest University,” in the Theta Chi lounge in 1986, with Pugh Auditorium being in his words, “quite the step up.”
Clay Hamilton read first. His oration, “Sing Thee Our Humble Lays” spoke about his excitement and love for Wake Forest as a freshman, which later slid into “sophomoric dissatisfaction.” Hamilton discussed disappointment and high expectations for what Wake Forest was supposed to mean to him and others but instead ended with the understanding that one’s path here is not a gift, but a journey in which the prize is community and satisfaction.
Hannah Hulshult spoke next. Her oration, “Finding Yourself Through Service” began with a quote from Mother Teresa about how “we belong to each other.” She reflected on the idea and meaning of ‘Pro Humanitate.’ Why does service matter? How does service affect our time in the classroom? Hulshult overwhelmingly responded, “in so many ways.” She spoke of how her time at Campus Kitchen and in the sociology department helped break down the figurative walls around our Reynolda Campus and find herself in others.
Betsy Mann next read her piece, “The Best Four,” a classic critique of freshman perceptions of college and of the hope that ‘next semester will be better.’ She spoke of the adversity and pain that comes about from the college transition and the ways in which the ‘Pro Humanitate’ spirit of the students, faculty and staff guided her to success and excellence.
Suzanne Mullins next rose to read her oration, “Beyond [Clock] Face Values.” She spoke of one of Wake Forest’s most treasured traditions. As one of an elite circle of carilloners that man the notorious bells held in the steeple of Wait Chapel, Mullins spoke of her pride in causing the 5 p.m. bells to peal across campus. Every student has heard the Harry Potter theme or the Imperial March from Star Wars echo from Wait Chapel’s piercing spire — but do we know who hides behind the clock face? Do we know who strikes the bells and releases music across the campus? Mullins is proud to claim the position as well as to speak about how, just as she has been hidden behind the clock face of Wait Chapel, she warns against hiding one’s nature from the community that Wake Forest can provide.
Rose O’Brien read her oration, “The Value of Self-Awareness,” and spoke of the inherent and rampant bias towards ourselves that she has observed at Wake Forest and in communities like it across the world. She discussed the ways in which leaders throughout campus speak of nothing but their own locus of experience and are rare to place themselves in someone else’s shoes. She taught the audience that the world’s inherent thoughts of refugees, those born into poverty somewhere a world away, are no less intelligent, less successful or less deserving of a chance at a place like Wake than any of us sitting in the audience. Rose showed that ‘Pro Humanitate’ is not necessarily a doctrine, but a mission to set out on daily.
Anna Pugh spoke her essay, “Paint Humanitate” and shared some poignant remarks about the similarities between painting and how one should live their life. She spoke of the use of color and how layering two brilliant hues of blue only serve to mute them both, but a blue with a green makes them both shine more. She also talked about how blank spaces on canvases are just as artistic and intentional as the spots holding paint. These lessons immediately apply to Wake Forest, the ways in which one paints their picture is as unique as the blades of grass on the quad or the bricks that built Wake Forest. On the surface she may have taught us how to paint a picture, but the implications are much deeper.
Erin Stephens read her oration, “Looking Up in A World That’s Looking Down” and softly critiqued part of Wake Forest’s success-oriented culture. She laments that she may have spent too many days looking down, blinders up, focused on a task that in the grand scheme may not affect her soul or wellbeing. It seems this is a story many Wake Forest students share. Any student can relate to the lamentations in the ZSR Library about “Work Forest.” Sadly it seems we are more able to bond over our unhappiness with our workload than the amazing things that happen around us daily. “Look up!” she said, or your time here will pass you by, and you’ll spend your time wishing you knew what was right above you the whole time.
Kyle Tatich doted on opportunity in his oration, “Learning the ‘Essence of Wake Forest.’” He talked about how he thought he understood what the essence of Wake Forest was as an aspiring freshman and how this understanding has drastically changed as an outgoing senior. He spoke of the joy it was to learn what Wake Forest really means and the embarrassment he now holds, looking back and realizing how far off he originally was.
Allison Thompson, who managed to be here tonight, taking a break from studies in D.C., bombastically read her essay, “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.” She began her oration by explaining her love and comfort found in libraries. She continued with how her love of libraries, the ZSR Library specifically, led her to encounter differing views of Wake Forest, discovering what the ‘Wake Forest Experience’ means to her, and later, how to develop a sense of place at Wake Forest.
Ben Wojnar spoke last, his oration “Exit Hack, Enter Scholar” discussed the idea of academics as a ‘means to an end’ and how students shouldn’t confuse their efficiency, their hard work, and the pay-off of these trials as being a ‘hack.’ Instead, Wojnar recounted how he found himself in many classes simply needed for a requirement and how these empty labors filled him with spite and frustration, as he felt it limited his efficiency and path to the future. However, as he stayed in these courses and paths, he stated, “What began as a laborious trial ended with genuine intrigue.” He may have started as a hack, interested only in high marks, but he leaves through the doors of Wait Chapel as a true scholar.
In the end, the colloquium was an example of what can be taught at Wake Forest outside the bounds of textbooks and classrooms. As O’Brien said, “The purpose of the Colloquium is to express the less tangible lessons that Wake Forest teaches us. I’m just proud to represent a 150-year-old tradition at Wake Forest.”