Convocation, held annually on the first Friday of the fall semester, marks the formal beginning of the academic year at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Shorn of its splendid keynote address, pithy remarks and informative briefings, it is fundamentally a ritual—one that has been practiced since the School’s creation in 1933. Do we need such an ancient and formalistic ritual, when like much of the world, The Fletcher School has undergone tremendous change in its march towards modernity?
Participants in the September 7, 2012 event—the faculty, staff, students and alumni of The Fletcher School packed into ASEAN auditorium—would argue yes.
The spirit and mission that led Austin Barclay Fletcher to found the School in 1933 is, “as valid today as it was then,” said keynote speaker and Fletcher alum George R. Packard, F59, F63, president of the United States-Japan Foundation and adjunct professor of political science at Columbia University. He noted that regardless of a changing international, political landscape, Fletcher’s mission is still “all about intellect and decent purpose: the bringing of the lessons of history economics, law, area studies and languages—the fruits of scholarship in those fields—to the creation of foreign policymaking in the cause of peace.”
An era of massive political change and disruption reveals an opportunity for the Fletcher community to step back and evaluate where it currently stands, and where it is headed.
Dean Stephen W. Bosworth, in his annual introduction, observed that the School has responded with “agility and imagination” to the changes around us. “The state of The Fletcher School is strong, and our mission is more relevant than ever,” he said.
Before his speech, Packard received the Fletcher Class of 1947 Memorial Award, presented this year by James Gould, F47, to an alumnus of the School who embodies the “best example of the kind of ideals that Fletcher represented.” Previous recipients include towering figures in diplomacy, business and finance such as Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, F54; Robert D. Hormats, F66; and C. Fred Bergsten, F62.
In his speech, Packard also looked back at his time at the School, recalled notable historical events since his graduation, and even offered what he would change about his education in retrospect.
“If I ask myself what I wish I had learned at Fletcher, I suppose it would be this: we can use our knowledge of history, economics, cultures and languages to come up with a brilliant, enlightened set of policy goals,” Packard said, “but it is not enough to be right: we better be ready to defend our ideas by engaging in the jungle of politics and bureaucratic infighting.”
Joel P. Trachtman, professor of international law, spoke on behalf of the faculty and offered some words of wisdom in regard to fleshing out the contours of Fletcher’s mission for the future. He urged students to think about “how the world will change between now and 2033, and how [their] education [at the School] may serve [them] in efforts to manage international relations” during this period.
“[…] The work of diplomacy for the next 20 years, your work, will be done by diplomats, business people, people who work in non-governmental organizations, journalists, soldiers and scientists. Every discipline of knowledge and every walk of life is involved. Diplomacy and international law are no longer, if they ever were, focused on a small point of contact between separated countries. Rather, they are concerned with a broad and intensifying array of engagements. We on the faculty look forward to helping you to prepare for this work,” he announced.
Trachtman also presented the Alfred P. Rubin Prize in International Law to Cecilia Vogel, F13, in absentia.
For students, both incoming and returning, the beginning of a new academic year can be quite daunting. There are a multitude of problems to address: finding the ‘right’ place to stay, picking the ‘right’ courses, spending the ‘right’ amount of time studying and having fun. Life as a graduate student is all about striking the ‘right’ balance, according to Annie Paulson, F13, who spoke on behalf of the students. She did, however, have words of comfort for the audience, “everyone [at Fletcher] is juggling sixteen plates—and that is a beautiful thing.”
Paulson offered a reminder of the need to have an “open mind” in a diverse community like Fletcher. “Having a truly open mind means embracing discomfort. This might entail engaging in a heated debate with a classmate, but genuinely making the effort to understand their [sic] perspective.” Since the social network at the School is extremely supportive and generous, she suggested students should have no problem succeeding in their quest for balance in their lives.
Convocation also provided an opportunity to mark the passing of Professor Alan M. Wachman, one of The Fletcher School’s most beloved and respected teachers. Bosworth and Trachtman both paid rich tribute to Wachman in their remarks.
“No one enjoyed the task of working with eager and brilliant students or approached it with more verve, dedication and intelligence than our dear late colleague Alan Wachman,” said Trachtman.
At its core, Convocation is an opportunity to anchor the coming academic year in the spirit and ethos of the School, to reinstate its mission, to commit to its ideals and to honor its past. Packard shouldered that responsibility with elegance.
“Whether you are scholars or practitioners, journalists or diplomats, members of the military or intelligence services, business or NGO leaders, American or foreign, the mission must be the same,” he said, “to seek out avenues where peaceful negotiations can prevail over raw power.”
--- A student correspondent