Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong took a small step that would reverberate across time and space. Today, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2019 — or “The Explorers,” a class name inspired by the 1969 moon landing — will take a giant leap of their own: participating in Recognition Day traditions, and officially graduating from the CLSC.
After spearheading Sunday night’s Vigil Ceremony — a cande-lit evening featuring the “Moon Suite,” a medley of moon songs arranged by the 2019 David Effron Conducting Fellow Maria Fuller, and a procession to the beat of the “Star Wars” theme — Lauralynn White, president of the Class of 2019, is ready to don white and receive that well-earned diploma so that she can hang it next to her partner’s in their home.
“I’ve thought about (graduating) for many years,” White said. “Like a lot of Chautauquans, when I went to sign up, I realized that I had already read 20 of the required books, just by virtue of being here. It’s a privilege to be amidst the longstanding traditions of Chautauqua.”
A day of festivities, processions and a special lecture from author and inaugural poet Richard Blanco, Recognition Day is the centerpiece of Recognition Week, four days of events celebrating the CLSC and its members. The morning begins with the unveiling of the Class of 2019’s banner, which will bear the words, “Exploring the Edges (Of Our Understanding),” at 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, August 7 in the Hall of Christ.
Although Class of 2019 members voted together on “class attributes” that will be incorporated into the banner, like the elementary particle root system — a class symbol adjacent to a guiding “scientific” emphasis — the final product is top secret until the morning of Recognition Day.
“It’s a really charming and thoughtful process,” said Stephine Hunt, manager of the CLSC Octagon. “Especially since we have several of our books this season that do address scientific topics, but it seems to be a part of (the CLSC) that is not always as prominent as the literary portion. … I was excited to see the Class of 2019 reaching for the scientific portion of the CLSC, and honoring that portion.”
After the reveal, CLSC alumni will parade at 8:45 a.m. from Bestor Plaza to the Hall of Philosophy, where the Recognition Day ceremony will commence at 9 a.m., graduating 78 new members of the CLSC. Hunt described the ceremony, featuring a performance from the Motet Choir and children “pelting flowers” at the graduates, as “chaotic and beautiful.”
The Class of 2019 is relatively small, but White says the size has encouraged a sense of camaraderie that includes “actually talking about the books.” Inspired to join the CLSC in part by her partner’s family involvement — her partner’s sister was the president of the Class of 1974 — White views the organization as a family affair, even outside the class she leads. Recently, while White was running the Chautauqua Inn, a guest greeted her by saying, “Welcome to the family.” The woman was a member of the CLSC Class of 2005.
For Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts, Recognition Day overflows with a “palpable joy and reverence” that first-time attendees recognize, and that Chautauquans experiencing the ceremony for “the umpteenth time” continue to appreciate.
“It is so exciting and heartwarming that this is all centered around the celebration of reading as a lifelong practice,” they said. “There is an incredible intergenerational component to graduation, where you have parents and children and other intergenerational mixes of families graduating together.”
Following the conclusion of the ceremony at 10 a.m., wherein Atkinson will graduate alongside their mom, all the CLSC classes will proceed from the Hall of Philosophy to the Amphitheater for a Recognition Day lecture from American poet Richard Blanco, in conversation with Krista Tippett. To round out the busy morning, the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall will host the Class of 2019 luncheon for graduates, family and friends in attendance who have purchased a luncheon ticket at 12:15 p.m.
This Recognition Day marks the last year in which the Centurion level is the top echelon of Guild of the Seven Seals achievement. Founded in 1887 as the graduate level of the CLSC, the Guild is expanding its current four reading levels — Seven Seals, Parnassian, Olympian and Centurion — to include two new levels, with implementation beginning next summer. The Miller Echelon of the Exalted Order of Chautauqua Founders requires CLSC graduates read 42 titles above Centurion, for a total of 152 total CLSC books, while the Vincent Echelon of the Exalted Order of Chautauqua Founders stipulates reading 49 more picks for a total tally of 201 books. The new requirements will be fully installed by 2021, according to an email to alumni from Cate Whitcomb, executive secretary of the Alumni Association of the CLSC.
Traditions and institutions evolve, but at least for today, the literary arts community will celebrate books, conversation and community as it always has.
“I think if it weren’t for that (palpable joy), (Recognition Day) wouldn’t be so enduring and so consistently beloved and satisfying for participants and for bystanders,” Atkinson said. “It makes me really proud that it lives at the center of my area’s programming. I’m really grateful.”