College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

THE DM: Fall Convocation Honors William Faulkner

AUGUST 22, 2018  BY HADLEY HITSON for The Daily Mississippian

Jay Watson, Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies and professor of English, speaks to freshmen and transfer students during the 2018 Fall Convocation.

Jay Watson, Howry Chair in Faulkner Studies and professor of English, speaks to freshmen and transfer students during the 2018 Fall Convocation. UM Communications photo

Hundreds of  freshmen, transfer students and faculty members filled The Pavilion on Tuesday night for the annual fall convocation, a ceremony welcoming new students to campus.

The convocation centered around the “common read,” a tradition since the first convocation, which is the book gifted to all new students at orientation that they’re tasked with reading for discussion in EDHE and honors classes.

This year’s common read is an Ole Miss special edition of Collected Stories of William Faulkner, which includes 42 short stories that were hand-picked by Faulkner as his best.

“This marks the first time in the eight-year history of the program that the common read is not a book by a living author, and this means that your convocation speaker is not the common read author but, instead, a common read reader, just like all of you,” keynote address speaker Jay Watson said.

Watson, an English professor at Ole Miss, also holds the title of Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies.

Watson emphasized that Faulkner, who never graduated high school or college, should not be looked to as an example of educational success. Instead, Watson urged students to learn from Faulkner’s artistry and innovation.

Freshman biology major Reagan Husband said she felt encouraged by this idea.

“At first I was scared that everybody else was going to be smarter than me, but from listening tonight, success is not just about being smart,” Husband said. “William Faulkner didn’t even graduate college.”

Watson also highlighted the concept that intelligence takes on many shapes, including that of creativity.

“William Faulkner is a great storyteller,” Watson said. “Faulkner educates. He leads us out into other lives and other experiences and other worlds.”

Watson explained that Faulkner pushes his readers outside of their comfort zones through his invention of new vocabulary and storytelling techniques. Watson claimed that, in this way, Faulkner’s goal is synonymous with the function of the university — to teach through exposure to a variety of perspectives.

Watson also discussed the startling disconnect between Faulkner’s personal and public lives. He said, “Learn from the artist this year, not the man.”

In his final piece of advice, Watson said, “As you set off on your own journeys of growth and discovery, I wish you all the pleasure, the profit and even the occasional growing pain that such an education holds.”

Following the keynote address, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Brandi Hephner LaBanc presented the Class of 2022 with convocation coins.

Convocation coins have become an Ole Miss tradition that students receive to mark the beginning of their college careers.

“This year, the coin depicts Oxford native and world-renowned author William Faulkner,” LaBanc said. “As Faulkner once said, ‘To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.’”

Freshmen business majors Garrett Dillon and Sarah McClain agreed that the fall convocation helped students gain a greater understanding of the university and that it was a positive start to their time at Ole Miss.

“Our teacher wanted us to come to convocation because he wants to make EDHE all about relationships,” McClain said. “We can build relationships with our peers instead of just being in a classroom and not ever saying anything.”

“It’s a good kickoff to school, with everyone being together and getting to know exactly what Ole Miss is about,” Dillon said.