They search for things:
Harry and William
meghan and kate
Meghan and Kate feud
N.F.C. playoff picture

They ask themselves:
should I be afraid
how afraid should I be

They search for things:
where is protest
safe to protest
how to protest

They realize:
Community is how it spreads.
Community is how it is solved.

Charles Yu, Systems

Olin College Convocation 2021

For Olin’s 2021 Convocation, students, faculty, and staff came together to engage in a storytelling experience inspired by the themes and structure of Systems, a short story by Charles Yu. Systems is part of The Decameron Project, sponsored by the New York Times last summer. In the story, Yu reimagines our search for meaning as a literal internet search set against the backdrop of the pandemic: a time when “community spread” felt inherently threatening, yet the need for community felt particularly significant. And in the searches, Yu’s story makes space for both the mundane and the profound--combining and recombining our big and small digital searching into a complex picture of who we are and what we’re looking for.

Inspired by the story’s framing of community as threatened, yet hopeful, our Olin community came together to reconnect and also to acknowledge the serious problems we face. Taking inspiration from the structure of Yu’s story, our storytelling activity asked participants to look at their own actual internet search histories during the pandemic, select two of them, and restate those two searches in the poetics of the story: “They search for”; “They ask themselves.” Then, we brought things to the present by looking at our search histories from the current week with this same poetic framework. We used this searching and questioning as a means to reconnect with one another: in small groups, we shared the stories behind the past and present searches we selected. Stories’ central psychological function is one of integration - integrating the self over time and integrating individuals into communities. In true Olin spirit we made this pursuit of wholeness come to life, as these small groups collaborated to combine or “glue” together their present search terms. Then together, they asked questions about what their searches held in common, what they might mean, and what we can begin to realize--or begin to tell ourselves--about our combined searching as we look towards the future.

On the following pages you will see the poems that were generated by our community during the convocation workshop.

Storytelling design and facilitation by Gillian Epstein and Jon Adler