What You Don’t Know About Assembly Speakers
by gillian b. ‘21
When you open the weekly update and see the words “assembly,” what comes to mind? Often, you might shake the thought, and move on with your day, knowing this is not a big deal. The thought does not re-enter your head until the day of said assembly, when you walk into convocation to see someone, often unknown. You sit down, the speaker walks onstage, the speech is given, questions are asked, and the whole occurrence is quickly dismissed. However, these seemingly simple events have much more planning, depth, and thought than expected at first glance
Picking a guest speaker is a gruelling task. Many hours are spent scrolling through speakers’ bureaus, flipping through alumnae phone books, and waiting for email responses. It is often difficult enough to merely find someone who fits the time and budget restrictions Bryn Mawr places on assembly speakers, let alone attempting to get in contact with them. If these options all fall through, coordinators often turn to personal connections, whether they be speakers they have heard prior, religious or community leaders, or even family or friends. For example, recently Bryn Mawr opened its doors to Hilary Harp Falk ’97, Bryn Mawr alumna and Vice President of Regional Conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. Claire B. ’19, Environmental Coalition Vice President, and one of the coordinators of Falk’s assembly, explained that rather than finding Falk through a speakers’ bureau, she was senior Emma A.’s senior project advisor. Additionally, Ms. Titus, Director of Global Programs & Diversity, and coordinator for various assemblies and guest speakers, shared how the entirety of the speakers at E3 Day’s “Strengthening our Interfaith Relations” Seminar were connected to the Bryn Mawr School in one way or another, whether as a family member, friend, religious leader, etc. These Bryn Mawr connections are not only convenient and simple ways to logistically find speakers, but to also have a speaker who understands Bryn Mawr, and its values as an institution, and can provide a speech catering to those values.
If you successfully surpass the logistical complications of finding a convocation or assembly speaker, it becomes time to choose who specifically you want to hear speak. When choosing a speaker, it is vital to find someone who is engaging, informative, and relevant. Ms. Titus explained in an interview that her main goal when bringing in a speaker is “to bring in outside voices - outside perspectives… [based on] the different conversations that are happening on campus, or not happening on campus.” She wants to bring in speakers that can help start these conversations and continue to emphasize the importance of this within a tight community like Bryn Mawr. However, if the student body is not interested in a speaker, the students would be uninterested in continuing the conversations after the lunch bell rings, thus defeating the purpose of having the assembly to begin with. If coordinators are willing to spend the time and energy searching for a speaker, it is vital that the speaker engages and interests students, and the conversations can continue as intended.
On a student level, Claire could not agree more. She explained that she finds the almost-daily senior speeches “a lot more personal and not as informative [as guest assembly speeches],” although sees the importance of having both a teen perspective and a real world perspective. Both Claire and Ms. Titus recognize the so-called “Bryn Mawr Bubble,” and see the importance of guest speakers as a way to bring in outside perspectives and ideas, therefore teaching students, who are about to dive into the outside world, an educated and exciting perspective. So, next time an assembly randomly appears on the weekly update, take a moment to appreciate the thought, depth, time, and patience required in order to bring that speaker to you.