In my four seasons as Chautauqua Institution’s president, this may be the oddest column to write to you. Normally at this point, I am sharing my sadness that our Summer Assembly Season has come to a close and I share reflections of my favorite moments from the previous nine weeks. I’ll save the latter for our closing Three Taps of the Gavel address at 8 p.m. EDT Sunday, Aug. 30 (join us at assembly.chq.org or on your CHQ Assembly app). And the odd part about the former is that while our 147th Summer Assembly Season concludes this week, we start anew in September with a new round of programming on CHQ Assembly.
COVID-19 took many things from all of us. There were missed celebrations and deeply sad moments. There was a “new normal” and a mourning of lost summer traditions, but it also ushered in a moment of reinvention for Chautauqua with the advent of CHQ Assembly. I’m so deeply grateful to all who took this beta test journey with us of the new digital collective. It was heartwarming to reconnect with you from around the world as you tuned in for lectures, classes, religious services and time-honored Chautauqua traditions. We have always said that Chautauqua is a powerfully connected community, and I am so grateful to all who used CHQ Assembly this summer to stay linked to one another.
We begin now unpacking all we’ve learned from this summer. It’s amazing to think that people in 50 countries were a part of our Assembly this summer. It’s remarkable to note that of our 10,000 paid CHQ Assembly subscribers, only 3,500 have an email that we can tie back to an existing Chautauquan. This tells me that many more count themselves among a deeply expanded community, and, for that, I’m truly excited. Not since the days of the founding of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle has Chautauqua endeavored to have such a far-reaching impact; I know our founders would be proud.
As I close out this column, I hope and pray that we will be able to safely gather with one another on the grounds of the Institution for our 148th Summer Assembly Season. I miss your faces, and I miss the energy of our in-person community. But I also know that when we do gather in person again, we will be joined by a growing legion of new Chautauquans, some of whom may never physically come here, but who share our passion for the exploration of the best in human values. May that be the blessing that comes out of this incredibly surreal time … until we meet again.
Michael E. Hill
18th President, Chautauqua Institution