Week Eight Letter From the President

Chautauqua is a community of people of all faiths and none. Our collective family is holding Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Reese, as well their families, close in prayer. We have been in touch with their families, and I was grateful to spend a very brief amount of time with Mr. Reese this evening. 

What we experienced at Chautauqua today is unlike anything in our 150-year history. It was an act of violence, an act of hatred and a violation of one of the things we have always cherished most: the safety and tranquility of our grounds and our ability to convene the most important conversations, even if those conversations are difficult. 

But today was an also an attack on an ideal we cherish: that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are hallmarks to our society and to our democracy, they are the very underpinnings of who we are and what we believe, what we cherish most. 

This evening, we are called to take on fear and the worst of all human traits — hate. And let’s be clear: what many of us witnessed today was a violent expression of hate that shook us to our core. We saw it with our own eyes and in our faces. 

But we also saw something else today that I don’t want us to forget.  We saw some of the best of humanity in the response of all those who ran toward danger to halt it. 

I watched a member of our staff hurl themselves at the attacker.   

I saw Chautauquans rush the stage to help secure the perpetrator, making it possible for police to remove him. 

I saw Chautauquans who are doctors and nurses rush to provide selfless care while the ambulance arrived. 

I saw what our chaplain this week, Terri Hord Owens, called us to possess: a generous, radical love for each other and this community. 

So where do we go from here? How do we think about tomorrow and the days that follow? When hatred shows its ugliness … 

The response must be love, of course, but also action. We must return to our podiums and pulpits. We must continue to convene the critical conversations that can help build empathy; obviously, this is more important now than ever. 

There will be time in the days and weeks ahead to reflect on all we’ve experienced today, and we have already been working on how to adapt to today’s horror to ensure our conversations in community continue.  But tonight, we are called to be with one another. We are called to sing sacred songs and sit and silence. We are called to hug our neighbor and hold a hand. We are called to double down on our prayers for Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Reese and all those who love them. We are called to stand witness that this Chautauqua has but one choice: to ensure that the voices that have the power to change our world continue to have a home in which to be heard. That is ours to do. 

We can take the experience of hatred and reflect on what it means for today.  Or we can come together even more strongly as a community who takes what happened today and commits to not allowing that hatred be any part of our own hearts.   

I know this community and I know that you will make a choice for hope and goodness. 

God bless you all.

Editor’s note: Instead of President Michael E. Hill’s previously written column reflecting on Week Seven, and looking ahead to Week Eight, given Friday’s events, we have opted instead to run President Hill’s remarks from the evening vigil in the Hall of Philosophy.

Tags : From the President

The author Michael E. Hill