Penning this column is among the saddest moments of every Summer Assembly for me, as it marks the conclusion of our nine weeks together during our traditional summer season. For all the previous weeks, I get to share the excitement of the week ahead, thank people for doing extraordinary things, and share my own Chautauqua experiences as I have the privilege of journeying alongside of you through the questions raised in our themes, the artistic power presented on our stages, the joy of watching our littlest Chautauquans head off to Children’s School or Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and the many other expressions of community life that we have come to cherish at Chautauqua.
But there is a rhythm to Chautauqua, and we are called to play our parts in that cycle. This summer has been unlike any other we’ve experienced, and I want to use my final column of the season to offer expressions of gratitude.
We entered the 2022 Summer Assembly quite nervous, to be honest. Chautauqua, like so many places across the nation, struggled to recruit the numbers of staff we needed to offer as robust an experience as we could. So please allow me to start by thanking the team that did assemble, working tirelessly to provide as “normal” a Chautauqua experience as possible. From grounds crews, cleaners, administration, and facilities staff to production crews, ushers, police and security, food and lodging staff, and ticket and gate agents, these folks leaned in and worked extra hard to help return Chautauqua to its first “full” summer season since 2019.
Alongside the staffing shortages was the still-present specter of COVID-19. Throughout our time, we together navigated pockets of COVID-19 diagnoses. In particular, I want to thank the faculty and staff in our Schools of Performing and Visual Arts, who worked miracles to ensure that young people in residence halls had a complete summer of teaching and performing their artform. Their dedication was second to none, and with our teams in Bellinger Hall, they worked miracles. They were joined by our colleagues in our various Youth and Family Programs who navigated all kinds of obstacles to not only protect, but ensure, a summer of fun for our youngest Chautauquans.
The brilliant minds and talents that animated our pulpit and platforms deserve a standing ovation from us all. From the incredible first week exploring “What Should be America’s Role in the World?” to this closing week, “A Vibrant Tapestry: Exploring Creativity, Culture and Faith with Smithsonian Folklife Festival,” these tremendous voices helped us explore and experience the best in human values, even when it was tricky.
Our community and volunteer groups also brought us brilliant minds and engaging experiences, and they continue to be shining jewels in Chautauqua’s crown. You are community builders, and we are so very fortunate to benefit from your commitment.
My heartfelt thanks to the people who will ultimately edit, lay out, print and deliver this column before you get to read it. The staff and leadership of The Chautauquan Daily has again served as the glue that helps us know what’s coming, make sense of what we’ve seen and capture the perfect words and images for a place that resists description. They are a bastion of creativity and free expression (and I’m not being partial because that’s where I started my own Chautauqua journey 26 years ago).
I also join the many busy Chautauquans here and across the world who were able to participate in our conversations and experiences both live and on our own schedules because of the CHQ Assembly team’s commitment to presenting Chautauqua’s mission online. They will continue to keep us connected all year long, so stay tuned for our fall, winter and spring programs.
I will have much more to say about the events of Friday, Aug. 12, in my closing Three Taps of the Gavel Address this Sunday. I hope you’ll be able to join us in person or on CHQ Assembly. To say this was a seminal moment in our summer is an understatement, but I want to thank all the Chautauquans who did everything to make a choice for hope that day. I continue to hold Mr. Rushdie and Mr. Reese in my most fervent prayers, and I know you join me in that.
Lastly and most importantly, I want to thank each and every person who came to Chautauqua this summer. Whether for an hour or a season, Chautauqua was created to be a reservoir for a community of communities seeking the best in human values — in society and in ourselves. We often put on our promotional materials, “It’s not Chautauqua without you,” and it says so much because it has the benefit of being the truth. Thank you for choosing to be a part of our community of communities. Thank you for clapping, debating, laughing, crying, shouting, praying, walking, jogging, boating, eating, celebrating and hugging, and for leaning into this grand experiment started almost 150 years ago.
It wouldn’t be Chautauqua without all of us, and for that, I am profoundly grateful.