Convocation of Personality: Jamaica Kincaid

Typically, at Loomis, illustrious and successful convocation speakers
come and express to the LC community their thoughts, ideas, knowledge, and
advice. Looking back on the ‘14-’15 year, we had Steve Ramirez, who spoke
about his career and passion for the field of neurology. We also had Jeff Johnson
during MLK week, who gave his perspective on how our society is doing in terms
of racial prejudice. While the speakers who came in gave brilliant insight and
thoughtful ideas, we had yet to encounter a speaker who got extremely personal
and talked about a heavily emotional and individual experience. That is, until
Jamaica Kincaid.

A professor at Harvard University and an accomplished author and
essayist, Jamaica Kincaid spoke at a convocation in March of this year. Her
speech struck the community as being very unusual. In accordance with the
theme of the 2014-2015 school year, she spoke about memory and its
importance in her life. She read a series of excerpts from her 1997 book, My
Brother. The community then heard an account, from her own original
perspective, of the tragic death of her brother, an AIDS victim. From there, she
detailed the story of his deterioration, his sexuality, and the reaction that she had
as a result to what he had to endure. She shared an important message about
family and ancestry as well as the compassion she felt for her brother as he
faced his illness and eventual death.

Despite the power of her speech, the most memorable moment of her
convocation occurred when she directly confronted students who were not
paying attention to her. The already quiet gym seemed to catch its breath. For in
that moment, Kincaid made everyone feel a way that few convocation speakers
have before. She simply refused to tolerate anyone even coming close to
showing her disrespect.

The general consensus about the student body seems to be that her
reaction was highly unorthodox and perhaps inappropriate, considering that her
job was to speak. Many also argue that her speech was incredibly boring and
unoriginal, as she spent much of her time simply reading. However, the majority
of the student body also fails to take into account what she did for our community
by singling those students out. Ms. Kincaid could not have cared less about what
anyone thought of her. That moment of utter awkwardness and discomfort,
wherein the entire school squirmed, was a refreshingly bitter taste of reality, and
a lesson in decorum. To see someone speak her mind without hesitation, and
then simply go back to her speech without any regard to her detractors, was a
powerful lesson: she taught us all to appreciate the power and
courage that it takes to respect one’s own words.

There are many things which Loomis can take away from Jamaica Kincaid. We ought to embrace discomfort because it can help us to understand
who we are and the things that we should speak up for. Jamaica Kincaid is her
own woman and lives her life with confidence, flair, and attitude. I only hope I can
learn from and take after her.

“Why can’t everybody just get used to it? People are born and they just can’t go
on and on, but it is so hard, so hard for the people left behind; it’s so hard to see
them go, as if it had never happened before, no one but you could survive this
kind of loss, seeing someone go, seeing them leave you behind; you don’t want
to go with them, you only don’t want them to go.”
-Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother