Week Three Letter From the President

President Michael Hill

Welcome to the third week of our 146th Assembly! I am writing this column on the Fourth of July, one of my favorite times here at Chautauqua. From the Children’s School parade, where our youngest Chautauquans participate in earnest in a time-honored tradition, to the sounds of the Chautauqua Community Band playing patriotic favorites, it’s a slice of Americana that lifts the soul. Equally dynamic, however, was the morning lecture by Risa Goluboff, dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, who walked us through issues of free speech after the Charlottesville riots, where white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with protesters. It’s one of the best examples of what Chautauqua does at its finest: Rather than duck the issues, respectfully tackle them in dialogue, across difference, seeking solutions. I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting way to celebrate our nation’s birthday.

A similar moment happened at a reception at the President’s Cottage this week. Someone asked a question about how we might diversify Chautauqua, and one guest’s response elicited a counter-response from someone of another race, questioning the assumptions made. Instead of screaming or ducking the question, they publicly and respectfully challenged the premises and afterward sat with one another to find a deeper sense of shared meaning. This is the Chautauqua we hope to most lift up.

Which brings us to Week Three of our assembly, one that celebrates one of our most dynamic partnerships, that with National Geographic. This week we join our friends at NatGeo in exploring “A Planet in Balance.” In response to a rapidly changing planet, National Geographic is leveraging its legacy of exploration, innovation and vibrant storytelling to further solutions. From funding cutting-edge technologies to leading advancements in science communication, we’ll uncover how NatGeo is using 21st-century tools to shape the future of exploration and to address the greatest challenge our world has ever faced. Together we’ll look at:

  • The status of the planet, and how the most advanced conservation technology is being deployed to show how nature and culture are changing in real time;
  • How exploration and the communication of science work in tandem to protect the environment so that all species have a shot at survival;
  • Earth’s last wild places, to learn about the efforts to protect and restore those habitats before it’s too late;
  • The planet’s extreme environments, and seek clues offered there for surviving the impact of the changes we are facing; and
  • our own choices, discovering how we can reduce our human footprint.

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we honor the practice of exploration by examining “What Archaeology Tells Us about Biblical Times.” Christians and all peoples of the world are drawn to Biblical sites in Israel, tracking the historical Jesus. These sites are not only vibrant centers of pilgrimage and faith, but monuments of archeological significance as well. Through recent work in Israel titled “The Search for the Real Jesus,” National Geographic, for example, has discovered a way to help us see that the scientific and the spiritual can and do coexist. We look forward to a week of walking between those two ways of seeing the world.

Speaking of exploring the impacts of faith and the journey of discovery, Peter and I had a chance to see Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of The Christians this past week. If you haven’t done so, it’s a thought-provoking piece and worthy of a look.

As always, there is so much in any given week to hold up as something “not to miss.” What has become an annual favorite tradition during my tenure is the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra’s performance alongside a Harry Potter film, this one “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” Peter and I are so excited to take our nephews and have them fall in love with the symphony through this vehicle. And then there’s also the CHQ Olympics. So much fun is packed into a week that includes the incredible work of our artistic companies, preachers, teachers and speakers. Whether you’re with us for the first time this week, or continuing your own Chautauqua journey from the week prior, I hope that you allow your spirit to be filled with the many offerings that this magical place provides.

And even more so, I hope what we have discovered on platforms, stages and porches so far this summer — the notion of engaging across difference — gives you hope for our society. As Dean Goluboff said Thursday, if you want to know how to engage with someone who thinks differently than you, start with a question of understanding, versus a statement to be heard. Imagine if we could all do this here, and then take it out across the country. Then, perhaps, there is hope.

Enjoy Week Three and one another,

Michael E. Hill

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