First-Year Academic Gathering

Class of 2021 First-Year Academic Gathering

Welcome Class of 2021


The Purpose and Focus of the Academic Gathering

The First-Year Academic Gathering traditionally marks the start of the academic year commemorated by a coming together of the Fairfield University community. In addition to welcoming the class of 2021, it is a time set aside for the community as a whole to reflect on not only academic pursuits but also the larger mission and values of the institution. Finally, the Class of 2021 will receive their class gift. The ceremony will take place on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 5 p.m. on the Bellarmine Lawn. The rain location is at the Recreational Complex Field House.

K‚ÄĆeynote Speaker

Headshot of Dr. Paul Lakeland - The Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Chair in Catholic Studies & Professor of Religious Studies‌Dr. Paul Lakeland pursued his first undergraduate degree in England in philosophy and his second at Oxford University in English language and literature. After completing a bachelor of divinity degree at London University, he came to the U.S. to pursue doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where he completed a dissertation on the nineteenth century German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. Dr. Lakeland joined Fairfield University in 1981 and has served terms as chair of the Religious Studies Department and as director of the honors program. He is the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J., Chair of Catholic Studies and the founding director of Fairfield’s Center for Catholic Studies. In 2005 Dr. Lakeland was named the Alpha Sigma Nu Teacher of the Year and in 2013 was inducted as an honorary member into the national honors society, Phi Beta Kappa. As he said at the time, “Phi Beta Kappa is a wonderful organization devoted to promoting excellence in the liberal arts. This is something to which I too have been committed throughout my life, and I am honored to be invited into membership. This is one of the high points of my academic career.” The author of ten books and editor of two, his most recent work is “The Wounded Angel: Fiction and the Religious Imagination.” When he is not teaching, reading, writing, or speaking, Dr. Lakeland loves to cook and takes a moderate amount of geriatric exercise.

The Class of 2021 Common Read

In advance of the First-Year Academic Gathering on Tuesday, September 5, 2017, we invite first-year students to participate in a webinar titled "The Quality of Mercy: The Liberal Arts at Fairfield" presented by keynote speaker Dr. Paul Lakeland.

Access the Common Reading page: We ask all incoming first year students to complete the Common Reading before September. If you will be participating in the webinar, please complete the readings and reflective questions prior to the dates listed below.

Summer Collaborate Webinar Experience

Earn your first FYE credit by registering for one of two 60 minute collaborate webinars offered at 8 p.m. EST on July 13 and August 3. Led by Dr. Lakeland, the webinars are designed for students to engage with one another on topics related to the Common Read. This is also an opportunity for students to meet new classmates and familiarize themselves with the virtual campus community. Please access the first year checklist to sign up for one of the collaborate webinar experiences. All common readings and reflective questions should be completed prior to the start of the webinar.

Common Reading

Welcome Class of 2021!

One of the key aims of Jesuit education is to form women and men for others and to foster awareness of injustice and the knowledge and willingness to act for the common good. As you begin your intellectual, social, and spiritual journey as part of the Fairfield University community we invite you to examine these common readings and engage through our summer webinar with our convocation speaker Dr. Paul Lakeland, professor of Religious Studies and the Aloysius P. Kelley chair of Catholic Studies.

We look forward to your next four years as part of our Fairfield University family and are certain that each of you will bring your gifts to our community and that you will grow into competent, caring and compassionate women and men in the Jesuit tradition.

As you read the materials, below are reflective questions to help you engage more fully in the webinar. There are two 60 minute interactive webinars offered at 8 p.m. EST on Thursday, July 13 or August 3. These webinars are designed for students to engage with one another on the topics covered in the reflective questions. This is also an opportunity for students to meet new classmates and familiarize themselves with the virtual campus community. Please visit the First Year Checklist to sign up for one of the collaborative webinar experiences. If you are not already logged into your my.fairfield account, you will be directed to a sign-in page before accessing the checklist.

Dear Soon-to-be-friends:

In the webinar for which we are preparing, I would like us to reflect on the relationship between the things of the mind and the things of the heart. Since you are about to begin four years at a Jesuit school, it doesn’t hurt to think about the twin virtues of Ignatian education, intellect and compassion. We will approach this task by attending to two similar ideas, namely, education in the liberal arts on the one hand, and the development of a capacity for true mercy on the other. I hope you will agree with me as we go along that because the liberal arts are directed towards the intellectual and ethical development of the human person, and because the human practice of mercy is, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the highest of all the virtues, the two should be closely intertwined with one another.

To help us think a little more deeply about these matters I have selected three fairly short and I hope interesting readings, which you should have completed before you join the webinar. So here they are:

Reading 1:

Blake, William. “The Divine Image.” 1789. Poetry Foundation, Accessed June 2017.

The first is a poem by William Blake, the great eighteenth century English artist and writer. Blake was a Christian, but about the most unusual and independent Christian you could imagine. As you work through this short poem, ask yourselves if and how it would be consoling to a traditional believer, and if and how it would make sense for someone who is not a believer at all. What kind of “message” do you think Blake is sending, and also perhaps, what is it under the surface of the poem that he is reacting against?

1. “The Divine Image,” by William Blake

To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity, a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

Reading 2:

Day, Dorothy. “Doing the Works of Mercy.” Plough, Accessed 8 June 2017. Excerpts taken from original publication in Commonweal, 4 Nov. 1949,

2. “Doing the Works of Mercy,” by Dorothy Day

For the second reading I have selected a few pages from a book by Dorothy Day, a woman who spent almost her entire adult life caring for the homeless in New York City. A writer and a pacifist, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality and lived in them until the day she died, among the most desperately poor. No one has shown compassion more concretely than she did.

So here are a couple of questions to think about: in the first place, how does Day’s understanding of what “mercy” means correspond or not to your own. For example, we often think of mercy as what we offer to people who are guilty of something and deserving of punishment. Do you think this is her view of mercy? Is it yours? What is hers and how might her view influence your own? Another aspect of her essay is that she writes about the cost of mercy to the one extending it. Mercy can require radical readjustment of our priorities, she seems to be saying. Do you think she is right about this, and do you think that this understanding of mercy has much presence in our society today? Should it, what would be the consequences of accepting the view of early Christians that “The bread you retain belongs to the hungry, the dress you lock up is the property of the naked”?

Reading 3:

Nussbaum, Martha. "Liberal Education & Global Community." Association of American Colleges & Universities, n.d., Accessed 8 June 2017.

3. “Liberal Education & Global Community,” by Martha Nussbaum

This third reading is a little different in at least two respects. First, it is written by a distinguished philosopher, and second, it looks at the role of the liberal arts relative to a whole series of pressing contemporary problems, thus gainsaying the common assumption that the liberal arts are of no great value. In a day and age when most undergraduate students no longer major in the liberal arts, the way in which Nussbaum makes connections between liberal studies and various fields of professional education may be particularly important to us.

We can begin by asking what Nussbaum means by “the compassionate imagination.” How does fear and anxiety make it harder for us to exercise compassionate imagination, and how might the study of the liberal arts help to overcome that fear?

Do you agree with her beliefs that (a) “the idea of liberal education is attractive to both Americans and non-Americans, first, because it places the accent on the creation of a critical public culture, through an emphasis on analytical thinking, argumentation, and active participation in debate,” and (b) with the belief, following the classical author Seneca, “that only this sort of education will develop each person's capacity to be fully human, by which he means self-aware, self-governing, and capable of respecting the humanity of all our fellow human beings, no matter where they are born, no matter what social class they inhabit, no matter what their gender or ethnic origin.” Are these two convictions important to the educational process as you understand it? And are they valuable to healing the ills of our present world?

Now let’s try to link Nussbaum to Day. Is there any connection between Day’s radical understanding of the role of mercy and the attitudes that Nussbaum “compassionate imagination” would encourage? Both mercy and compassion are forms of love, at least in the sense that “just love” is focused on the real person or thing that is loved, and not on oneself. And imagination as Nussbaum uses the idea seems to mean the practice of empathy, of trying to put oneself in the other’s shoes, of seeking to see how the world looks from another point of view than one’s own.

I look forward very much to our Webinar encounter, hopefully the first of many.

Paul Lakeland
Professor and Aloysius P. Kelley S.J., Chair of Catholic Studies




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