Darrow Speaks at Convocation
With urbanization and technology increasingly isolating people from one another, society needs to find new ways to foster and renew communities, author and former journalist Siobhan Darrow told members of the Occidental College Class of 2010 on Aug. 30.
In a speech at the college’s annual convocation, Darrow, a former foreign correspondent and producer for CNN, urged more than 500 first-year students and transfers to look beyond single-minded striving for career and financial success to create a world of acceptance and understanding.
“I truly believe you have to be true to yourself and your individual spirit, but to be really healthy and whole we have to live both as individuals and also as members of a community,” she said. “In fact, community is as important for a human to thrive as air and water.”
“If you think about it, we are all born into different kinds of communities. A family is one kind. A neighborhood is another, and culture yet another. College may be the first community you actually choose for yourselves,” said Darrow, whose 2002 memoir, Flirting With Danger: Confessions of a Reluctant War Reporter, was assigned summer reading for incoming students.
“When you leave here four years from now, I hope one of the most enduring gifts you take away from college are life-long relationships and connections to each other that come from being in this community together. I believe that when we ignore communities, important parts of us wither and die. When we nurture them, we thrive.”
Looking back on her experiences as a correspondent in such places as Chechnya, the Balkans, Israel, and Northern Ireland, Darrow said she realized that many of the combatants she talked to “didn’t have the connections and relationships that humans need to grow. But the desire for community is so strong that if people don’t have a community based on love and support, they create a community based on hate.”
The result of this warped sense of community is war. “The nobility of war is a lie that many of us are prepared to believe because there is something in our nature that allows us not to see that a little evil exists inside all of us,” Darrow said. “It is the common person who believes that evil only exists elsewhere, and that we must go annihilate it. It is the wise person who can identify ugly things about herself and admit them, and, by admitting, begin to heal and to make sure she does not inflict that ugliness onto others.”
The annual observance marking the beginning of the academic year was the first for President Susan Prager, who became Occidental’s 13th president on July 1. “I will forever be bonded with you in a very special way, because you always will be my first Occidental students,” Prager said.
Xiao-Huang Yin, professor of American studies, was presented with the 2006 Graham L. Sterling Award, an endowed prize which recognizes an outstanding member of the Occidental faculty on the basis of strong teaching, service to the College, and distinguished professional achievement.