As I typed that, I realized that the word inaugurate must come from latin and refer to augury. Inauguro means to “approve based on the omens,” which usually refers to the flight of birds. This realization places the ceremony at hand in a slightly different light, the acceptance of Amherst College’s new president, Biddy Martin.
No signs were consulted. No animals were sacrificed. Some students song and played music. There were even minimal ceremonia objects. The only noticeable piece of gear was the spear that the sheriff carried. Biddy was presented a special cane, some keys, and an honorary degree.
But there were many speeches, which described Amherst’s past and predicted optimistic things in the future. They placed Biddy in a historical narrative, much in the way reading the omens would have placed her in a cosmological narrative. Biddy herself discussed Amherst’s historical continuity as well as it’s relationship with the US,
In 10 years we will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of Amherst College. On the occasion of its 100th anniversary, as you have already heard today, then President Alexander Miekeljohn gave an anniversary speech in which he decided to offer three prophecies about the future of the college. Actually, he hedged a bit, and said the future of the college would depend on the future of the nation. He made three predications about its future. In 1921, he suggested that the United States would develop a culture that was genuinely independent of Anglo-Saxon Britain, and that it would, as a result, distinguish itself from Britain’s aristocratic approach to other peoples and races and creeds, creating a level playing field rather than domination over others. And that faith would be restored to American culture. Amherst’s next hundred years, he said, would follow those trends. As for faith, the nation remains deeply divided about its centrality and place.
President Miekeljohn’s predictions are among the most popular speech topics at Amherst, bordering on cliche. On the other hand, if one is writing a speech about Amherst, its hard to pass up something like that. It’s nice, simple, and old-school. As for Biddy’s speech, one of the first speeches I’ve been able to stay awake for in years, it was pretty good. I’ve only heard two of Biddy’s speeches now and I am impressed, but her word choice sometimes bothers me. She used incandescence and melancholia as theme words, that got repeated and referenced. But both times she ignored the weight and subtly they had, as if they were just synonyms for bright and sad. But its hard to do that properly in a speech, and they are so fun to say.