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As We Look Ahead, a Collective Wisdom and Hope

There is a new addition to the hallway leading to my office door in the Colonnade, a tribute to all the men — and I look forward to the day we will say “men and women”! — who have been fortunate enough to serve as president of the Institution. As many of you know, I am fond of referring to myself as the 18th president of Chautauqua as a reminder that 17 others came before me, but there is something about this tribute wall to I find particularly moving. As I glance into the faces of my 17 predecessors, I see both a wisdom gleaned from being formed by our beloved Chautauqua and those who populate it year after year, and also an earnestness, an expression of hope on each face of what is to come for the person who is lucky enough to sit in that unique chair.

These images, these faces, are now daily reminders for me as I begin my second year of service as your president. My inaugural season was full of the excitement of a “freshman year.” I was overwhelmed by the generous welcome of Chautauquans, by the expressions of good will from those who had graced our stages, pulpits and classrooms, and the many conversations around our new Amphitheater and the new leaders joining our veterans who would help us shape the next chapter in the life of this sacred grove by the waters of our beloved lake. Thank you all for that welcome, for your thoughtful suggestions, and the warm smiles and waves as I tried to figure out the pace and rhythm of this first season. You started to imprint on me your collective wisdom that I see in those faces of the previous presidents that adorn the hallway.

2018 will be an important year for Chautauqua. It is the last year of our existing strategic plan, which means that we will spend this year doing our homework to create a new one. We held our first strategic listening session at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh the last week in January, and I will soon hit the road with a combination of staff and Institution trustees in gatherings with hundreds of Chautauquans to hear what’s most on their minds as we begin our planning work. If we don’t have the good fortune of coming to your community, we will be hosting sessions each week of the summer, asking you to help us define the essence of Chautauqua and explaining the pathway toward creating a plan that will inform our mission for the coming years.

All of this planning work naturally comes with our annual duty of curating a season to delight, challenge, inspire and move you to action. It has been such a joy to work with my colleagues, rolling out the names one by one of our preachers, speakers, artists and teachers who will inform our 144th Assembly. By the time those who can return with us in person are here, we will already have our 2019 themes ready to share, and we will continue to look for ways to engage you on our “digital grounds” for those who cannot be present. We take seriously our charge that Chautauqua is both, as Vincent and Miller argued, “a place and a movement,” and we intend to promote pathways to both in 2018 and beyond.

Someone joked with me in the hallway the other day that my face on the “President’s Wall” seems fresh and youthful. I suppose that’s only fair for someone who has only completed a year of his tenure, but it got me to thinking about what my successor would see in my face whenever I join the ranks of those other 17 black-and-white photographs (hopefully a very long time from now!). If my first year was any indication, my image will have been molded by the collective wisdom of this special community and will carry the blessings of those interactions. I also hope that whenever that time comes that it will also express the same earnestness, love and hope that my 17 predecessors show as I glimpse their visages during my daily routine.

This time, our time, to shape Chautauqua is now. I am eager to sculpt the future of this sacred place and movement with you.

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