Professor Urges Students to Find Their Inner Bookworm
Members of the class of 2014 attend the New Student Convocation at Westbrook Auditorium.
at the New Student Convocation
August 18, 2010
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – With laughter and animated conversations marking the beginnings
of lifelong friendships, students of the class of 2014 filed into Westbrook Auditorium
on Tuesday for the New Student Convocation at Illinois Wesleyan University.
“This is a special place, a place where I know you will feel at home,” said University
President Richard F. Wilson of the 620 new students who traveled to Illinois Wesleyan
from as far away as Egypt, the Netherlands and China. The Convocation is part of
the annual “Turning Titan Week” on campus, orienting new students to Illinois Wesleyan.
President Wilson led students through the annual chant of the University motto, Scientia et Sapientia, which translates roughly as ‘knowledge and wisdom.’ “You must learn to do more than
acquire facts and figures,” said Wilson. “You need to learn how to use that knowledge
wisely for the benefit of others, and if you are successful, you will find that your
life will be forever transformed.”
Students were welcomed by Dean of Students Kathy Cavins-Tull, the Student Senate Vice
President Erick Henderson, the Young Alumni Committee Chair Justine Robinson, and
Associate Dean of the Faculty Irving Epstein, who let students know what makes Illinois
Wesleyan stand out. “Our uniqueness lies in our campus mission, devoted to fostering
a spirit of inquiry, yet also includes our commitment to diversity, social justice
and environmental sustainability,” said Epstein.
Professor of English Dan Terkla
The keynote speaker for the Convocation was Illinois Wesleyan University Professor
of English Dan Terkla, who was named the 2011 winner of the Kemp Foundation Award
for Teaching Excellence at Illinois Wesleyan. In his speech, titled “Booklice, Blackberries
and Reading in Slow Time,” Terkla welcomed students to “join a society of bookworms,”
and encouraged them to engage in a “multisensory reading that I would like to recommend
to you, a kind of reading practiced in the Middle Ages, which is where I spend most
of my scholarly and teaching time.” He asked them to reframe how they read. “You are
bookworms – book consumers with an appetite for knowledge. You are intelligent readers,”
said Terkla, who noted the students are also members of a digital age and prone to
tackle more than one task at a time.
With images on a slide show that ranged from Sir Frances Bacon to Martha Stewart and
Bill Gates, Terkla urged students to transcend the urge to multitask when it comes
to reading. “Studies prove that we as species can only do one thing really well at
a time,” he said. “We can have trouble prioritizing when we are bombarded by digital
options – think Google, Amazon.com, Pandora, YouTube, e-mail, RSS feeds, blogs, tweets,
iTunes, texts, Facebook and friends, cell phone calls and RateMyProfessor.com.”
A professor of medieval literature, and a world-renowned expert on medieval maps,
Terkla said he was far from a Luddite, and embraced technology that brings images
of aged manuscripts to his fingers that once would have meant flying across the ocean
to explore. After showing the painstaking process once used to make parchment paper
for books in the Middle Ages, he expressed worry that our modern-day access to immediate
information may be eroding the importance of ideas still housed in books. “I am worried
that we textual omnivores might come to regard the contents of books less highly because
of their easy availability,” he said, “and that we might turn the activity of reading
into something more akin to consuming fast food on the run than ruminating fine dining.”
Terkla admitted he was anxious to call on students to read in what Andrew Taylor called
“slow time,” because they live in “an age that doesn’t tolerate deliberateness, an
age in which time seems to run faster than clocks allow, and age in which so much
is of equal priority that nothing is."
Though technology has made great and important leaps, true fulfillment in reading
comes with enjoying and even digesting the ideas in books like bookworms, said Terkla.
“Though I am not advising you to turn off, tune out and drop out, I am asking you
to minimize distraction and to reframe the ways in which you think about your reading
habits,” he said. “I am asking you to re-imagine reading, not as a job or a task to
conclude, but as a feast that best unfolds in slow time.”
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960