CHAUTAUQUA – With three fleeting taps of a gavel, the 141st season of Chautauqua Institution formally concluded at the amphitheater Sunday evening.
Thomas Becker, 17th president of Chautauqua Institution, led the final address of the 2014 season for the hundreds of people gathered to bid the season and their fellow Chautauquans farewell.
Following three months filled with education, entertainment, worship and thought-provoking content with worldwide implications, Chautauqua’s residents will now disperse to their homes and daily lives throughout various states, countries and continents. Becker, however, waxed philosophic as he posed poignant questions to attendees of Sunday’s closing ceremony, urging them to consider how they will conduct themselves moving forward in the world outside the confines of the acclaimed educational and spiritual community.
“(Throughout the season) we have seen images of depraved violence represented by the downing of commercial airliners, the shooting of unarmed citizens, the capture and beheading of journalists and we find we are still susceptible to lethal virus and the contamination of our drinking water,” Becker said. “So in the face of so much loss, pain and violence in the world, what shall we make of the Chautauqua experience? How does the bounty of that experience add up for our families?”
“Chautauqua presents us with familiar gifts,” he continued. “In the rhythm of our weeks, and the days that fill those weeks, are rituals that each of us follow here according to our interests, favorites, needs and the needs of our families. We know this place. It is from this familiar that we find and renew our capacity to deal with the foreign concepts and challenging content that we engage in with peers and when we return home.”
The ceremony took on a somber tone as Becker then addressed the untimely passing of two Chautauquans who were unexpectedly “torn from the fabric of this community” throughout the course of the 2014 season: Ryan Kiblin and Mary Whitaker.
Kiblin had served as supervisor of grounds, garden and landscaping for Chautauqua Institution before passing away last month at the age of 33 along with her unborn daughter, Emma. Whitaker, 61, who had performed with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for 36 years and was currently serving in the capacity of second violinist, was killed last week when she returned to her Westfield home following a Tuesday performance to a robbery in progress and was shot to death. Becker spoke to the talents of each woman, and reminded those they left behind to sift through the noise, clamor and distractions of life while finding the layers of meaning, value and connection.
“In memory of two of the most recent members of the host of witnesses, I wish you the familiar gifts of beauty and nature, of music and art, and I wish you Godspeed as you go home,” he said.