Fear Itself

3 March 2020

James Hohmann ConvocationAward-winning journalist James Hohmann delivered Carleton’s opening convocation to a standing-room-only crowd in Skinner Memorial Chapel in September. Anchor of the Washington Post’s PowerPost initiative, which focuses on how partisan politics impact policymaking, the Stanford grad began by assuring first-year students in the audience that “imposter syndrome” is not only common at the beginning of the collegiate experience, it’s to be expected.

“It is humbling. Everyone — everyone! — wonders when they arrive at a liberal arts powerhouse like Carleton if it was a mistake that they got in,” he said. “Let me assure you, you are not here by accident. You belong.” Hohmann went on to discuss how and why it’s important for all engaged citizens to both recognize and conquer their fears.

“Fear has emerged as the toxin of our age. . . . It is polluting our public square, and it is literally tearing families apart. So, today, I feel a sense of urgency to outline my vision for conquering fear— especially because you can lead the way.”

“Number one: Don’t fall prey to fear in your own life. Make a conscious choice not to be a consumer of or consumed by fear. Be skeptical. Be curious. Be con dent in yourself, and be respectful to those around you. Be alert to messengers and messages seeking to divide us, whether in class, on TV, over the internet, or in government.”

“The second element to conquering fear: Never prey on the fears of others. A Carleton education puts you in the fast lane to affluence and influence. Of whom much is given, much is required. You should never encourage people’s prejudices or seek to benefit from their unhealthy fears.”

“Sometimes combating fear requires standing alone. I have been told to be on the lookout while I am here for a bust of the German philosopher Friedrich von Schiller. Schiller once wrote: ‘Live with your century, but do not be its creature. The voice of the majority is no proof of justice.’ Just because the culture is gripped by fear doesn’t mean you need to be.”

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