From the President

Column by Thomas M. Becker

Welcome to another beginning, the opening of the 142nd season in the rich history of this wonderful Institution. There is an energy to this day that is palpable; the joy of the return; the wonder of the first encounter; the greeting of friends; the pleasure in the singular quality of this place.

There is also a bittersweet quality to this first day of assembly resulting from the absence of friends and loved ones whose presence added so much to the grace of this experience. The program for Sunday morning’s opening ceremony will include a list of those Chautauquans who have died since we last gathered here. The list is too long.

One of the names on the list is that of Ken Fradin. Ken and Zetta and their family have been members of this community for a very long time. Ken served as a trustee of Chautauqua from 1985 to 1989. A businessman and a wit, Ken was a knowledgeable devotee of music. Though he criticized his talent as a pianist, he did so as he sat down to play whenever the instrument was within reach.

He had a devilish smirk. His eyes sparkled with pleasure when he greeted a friend. He embraced you before he ever touched you.

He was smart about assessing opportunities and challenges, enjoying near perfect pitch in common sense. I miss his company, even his god-awful dirty jokes — one per visit.

I wish he were here this summer to witness Rossen Milanov’s debut as the music director of the CSO. I just wish he were here.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of Chautauqua is that it promotes the development of deep connections between people. Here, your conversations are at once personal to life circumstances and deeply considered about important issues. That combination is not all that common in most social aspects of our life. Here it is ingrained in daily life.

So, we get to know one another beyond the superficial. We share our hopes and aspirations, our certainties and our confusion. That level of engagement is often present even in the briefest of exchanges and is one of the most repeated comments from our guest lecturers and preachers.

We live in an age where civility needs to be practiced as it seems to be so rarely expressed. It’s as if civility and kindness are evidence of weakness or a lack of intelligent observation.

Welcome to an alternative to that point of view. I hope the 2015 season is a blessing in your life.