Recognition Day is a scene out of time. White-clad graduates march, music plays, flower petals drift through the air. Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent are even there.
Throughout the 2013 Season, select speakers at Chautauqua Institution — specifically chaplains in residence — have cast technological innovation in a pessimistic light. But it is not the criticism of smartphones and video games that is problematic. Rather, it is the sheer lack of a response to this criticism which serves as a reminder: The Institution has historically offered very little programming on technology and culture.
“Every Child is an Artist.”
Last Tuesday night, approximately 40 young minds gathered in the Pier Building to “Solve For X.” A brainstorming project run by Google[x] — the arm of the technology giant responsible for the self-driving car and Google Glass — Solve For X brought 17- to 24-year-olds together for an hour of presentations by three innovators, followed by a half-hour of brainstorming about each innovator’s idea. Google describes the process as the meeting point of a huge problem, a radical solution to the problem and the use of breakthrough technology.
The title for this week’s lecture theme, “The Next Greatest Generation,” suggests optimism and boundless potential, for my peers and me. What we really crave, however, is candor. Chautauqua is a place that thrives on messages of hopeful promise. But what made this week’s presentations from Chris Hayes and Paula Kahumbu so compelling was their honesty about the scope of the challenges that our generation faces, be it the specific case of Kenya, facing relentless greed of poachers and the markets they serve, or the broader decline of trust in major institutions within the United States. Hayes and Kahumbu both attempt to speak truth to a power structure that they realize is deeply entrenched, and it is this context that made their presentations so fully credible. Kahumbu’s exhaustive campaign to end elephant poaching — from cleverly redesigned currency to ubiquitous receipt stamps and billboards — was an object lesson in how fearless and ambitious young people must be if they want to mount a serious challenge to market-driven greed and the political passivity it engenders. Dalia Mogahed also provided some inspiration grounded in reality when she spoke of the courage of Muslim youth in demanding a voice in their societies’ governance — but against a backdrop of social neglect, born of greed and complacency from the oligarchies that ruled both their governments and their economies (which may sound familiar to those who heard Hayes as well.)
At Friday’s morning lecture, a liberal television host and magazine editor, a researcher on Muslim-American studies, a major in the United States Army and the vice president of Google[x] gathered on the Amphitheater stage to talk about what it means to be part of “The Next Greatest Generation.”
Chris Hayes, Dalia Mogahed, James Smith and Megan Smith have all spoken in some capacity at Chautauqua Institution this week.
Hayes, who moderated the panel, began the conversation by asking James how he sees the past generation’s emphasis on service in the military in relation to the next generation’s service in the military.
Throughout the week, several men and women have offered their unique perspectives on “The Next Greatest Generation.” Vice President of Google[x] Megan Smith spoke about the “creative collaboration age” wrought by technology and the Internet, and James Smith of the United States Army explained the potential role of the “military millennial” generation in rehabilitating America’s value system. Dalia Mogahed, senior research advisor at the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, lectured on U.S. engagement in the Islamic world, and political commentator Chris Hayes outlined meritocracy’s role in what he called the “fail decade.”
At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, all four lecturers will share their different perspectives at a special panel discussion.
Though Megan Smith’s current place of residence is in Silicon Valley, the vice president of Google[x] has her roots on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution.
“It’s nice to be home,” she told the crowd at the Monday morning lecture in the Amphitheater. “Traveling with all of you has been an incredible experience.”
Once a participant in the Chautauqua Boys’ and Girls’ Club, Smith was back to jumpstart the second week of morning lectures with the theme of “The Next Greatest Generation.”
Megan Smith put Chautauqua on the map — well, digitally anyway.
The vice president of Google[x] was responsible for the various vehicles that drove around the Institution’s grounds last year gathering images for Google Maps Street View, which went live last month.
Smith, who will open this week’s morning lectures at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, knows a lot about “The Next Greatest Generation.” And she said that the audience already knows about this generation as well, seeing as they are a part of it.
Almost everyone struggles to fit all that is Chautauqua into one simple sentence. But that didn’t stop Megan Smith from trying during Friday’s NOW Generation Reception.
“It’s the TED conference, only if it was founded in the 1800s. And lasted all summer,” Smith said.
Smith’s description provides a poignant example of a younger Chautauquan’s search for relevance. NOW Generation seeks to connect those ages 21–50 and to provide the resources to allow them to make Chautauqua pertinent to young people well into the future.
The reception, which took place at 5 p.m. at the President’s Cottage, boasted 150 attendees. The first half-hour of the event was social — a time for people to meet, reunite and chat on the goings-on of Chautauqua.
Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, was the first of the evening’s speakers.
“Welcome home,” Downey said. “It’s an amazing summer.”