Pingry's 157th Commencement Exercises on June 10 were marked by thoughtful words from students, faculty, and administrators. Here are a few, featured excerpts, followed by a slideshow of memorable moments.
What good books have you discovered this summer? For many Pingry faculty and staff, N. Scott Momaday's award-winning novel, House Made of Dawn, is at the top of their 2017 summer reading list. Momaday, the first Native American author to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is also the first Native American author whose work Pingry selected for its annual faculty/staff summer reading.
House Made of Dawn focuses on the experiences of the protagonist, Abel, who returns to his Native American homeland in 1945 after fighting in World War II. It goes on to follow the complex account of Abel over the years, as he is caught between the values and traditions of his Native American heritage and the difficulties he faces in a non-Native, modern society. In Momaday's own words, "Abel's story is that of one man, of one generation. It is otherwise a story of world war, cultural conflict, and psychic dislocation."
Momaday's writing was influenced by his own childhood experiences growing up in the Southwest on Native American land in Arizona and New Mexico. He witnessed firsthand the deprivations and hardships of many living on the reservations, and through his colorful narratives, he shares their perspectives. His work reflects the beauty and strength of Native American traditions, which he feels are missing in the modern world. Momaday also focuses on the Native American people and their spiritual connection to the land. To him, the land is sacred; it's the people who belong to the land.
This year, the faculty summer reading selection was the result of a collaboration between the English Department, the Diversity & Inclusion Department, and the Academic Committee. "The goal was to select a book that would continue the community's work of increased cultural competency," said Dr. Diana Artis, Chair of the Diversity & Inclusion Department.
Enter Ms. Christine Taylor, Chair of the English Department, whose goal at the close of the last school year was for teachers and students to discuss work by the same author this fall. Upper School English students currently have one required novel by a Native American, and Dr. Artis, among other Pingry administrators, agreed that the school's curriculum would benefit from additional study of their culture. Ms. Taylor saw this shared summer reading opportunity as a way to increase their exposure. While faculty and staff are reading House Made of Dawn this summer, Upper School English students will read essays and poetry written by Dr. Momaday this fall.
According to Dr. Reid Prichett, Dean of Faculty for Teaching and Learning, "There are a lot of different portrayals of Native Americans in our country, including stereotypical images of Indians associated with teepees. This book provides us—both faculty and students—with an opportunity to learn and understand more about their experiences and culture."
To apply important lessons from this book to practice, Pingry has planned upcoming faculty meetings to discuss Momaday's work, with an emphasis on incorporating its message into classroom teachings and interactions with students. The Pingry community will also have the opportunity to meet Dr. Momaday in person when he visits the school on October 5, 2017. Dr. Momaday will spend the day on campus with students, sharing his experiences as a Native American and opening up a dialogue with students and faculty for more more in-depth discussions.
As Dr. Artis and her colleagues work on upcoming programming related to Dr. Momaday's visit, she adds, "It is an absolute privilege to have Dr. Momaday visit our community and share his wisdom as we, as a school community, continue on our journey of cultural competency."
Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, email@example.com