Gowns awarded, Crane speaks at Convocation

peter crane speaking

Winter Convocation was held Friday, Jan. 20, in All Saints' Chapel. The service, on an unseasonably warm and sunny afternoon, opened the University’s Easter Semester. Sir Peter Crane, the inaugural president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Virginia and until recently the dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, gave the Convocation address and received an honorary doctor of science degree. The University awarded academic gowns to 106 students during the Convocation.

Crane’s address emphasized the importance of gratitude. Especially during times of change and challenge, he said, it is important to ground ourselves by expressing gratitude to family, friends, and colleagues. He asked his audience to reflect on the beauty of the Sewanee Domain and to remember that it is the result of the vision and work of generations before us.

Drawing on research as well as the words of Crane’s colleague Yale President Peter Salovey, his address highlighted the benefits of gratitude. Gratitude can be an uncomfortable emotion because it forces us to recognize that we are not entirely in control or wholly self-sufficient; that on occasion we are vulnerable.

In addition, when we experience gratitude, it detoxifies more negative emotions like anger or hate—expressing gratitude is incompatible with those other feelings. And gratitude dilutes the tendency toward envy; it makes us less likely to compare ourselves with others. Grateful people are more resilient and have a stronger sense of belonging. Psychologists even argue that feelings of gratitude broaden one’s mind. All these benefits produce a strong link between gratitude and mental health.

After urging the students to be grateful for their opportunities and to look to the future with hope, Crane recalled words from Teddy Roosevelt: "It is not the critic who counts. ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."

Peter Crane became the inaugural president of the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Virginia in July 2016, which is dedicated to inspiring and facilitating scholarship and public dialogue on the uses, history and future of plants, including their importance for human well-being, and in the culture of gardens and landscapes. Crane is known internationally for his work on the diversity of plant life—its origin, fossil history, current status, conservation and use. He has served previously at the Field Museum in Chicago and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the largest and most influential botanical gardens in the world. He joined Yale in 2009 as dean of Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Crane was elected to the Royal Society—the UK academy of sciences—in 1998 and was knighted in the UK for services to horticulture and conservation in 2004.

Also honored during the Convocation were Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, physician, and founding director of Partners in Health, who received an honorary doctor of civil law; journalist and poet Eliza Griswold who received an honorary doctor of letters; and S. Zachry Young, former headmaster at Wesleyan School in Atlanta, who received an honorary doctor of civil law. Read more about all the honorary degree recipients here

Provost John Swallow announced the following recipients of named professorships:

Assistant Professor Kristen Cecala, Department of Biology, is John D. MacArthur Assistant Professor; Professor Julie Berebitsky, Department of History, is Jessie Ball duPont Professor; Professor Julia Gatta, School of Theology, is Bishop Frank A. Juhan Professor of Pastoral Theology; Professor Karen Kuers, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems, is Annie Overton Brinkly Snowden Professor of Forestry; Professor Deborah McGrath, Department of Biology, is Carl Gustav Biehl, Jr., Professor of International Studies; Professor Amy Patterson, Department of Politics, is Carl Gustav Biehl, Jr., Professor of International Studies; and Professor Bran Potter, Department of Earth and Environmental Systems, is Robert M. Ayres, Jr., Distinguished University Professor.

See photos from the day here