Emory & Henry officially launched the re-establishment of the historic Hermesian Literary Society Tuesday, Jan. 22, with three debates and a declamation dealing with such topics as global climate change, executive powers and the survivability of liberal arts colleges.
Approximately 40 people were on hand to watch as students once again stood on the ornate podium of the recently renovated Hermesian Hall to exercise their oratorical skills and to spotlight the College’s historic emphasis on critical thinking.
Among the debaters was Jarrett Dunning, a sophomore from Stuarts Draft, Va., who argued in the negative on the question, “That the United States should make the reduction of carbon emissions a top priority.” A panel of three faculty judges voted 2-1 to name Dunning the winner over Cole Conley, a senior from Floyd, Va.
Judges also preferred Colin Christensen, a senior from Strasburg, Va., in a debate dealing with presidential executive power. Arguing in the affirmative, Christensen contended that the exercise of presidential executive authority was consistent with majority rule. Christensen was the winner over Linda Hurley, a sophomore from East Bend, N.C.
The third debate took up the question of whether it was permissible for parents to pay for their children’s college education. Sydney England, a junior from Maryville, Tenn., defeated Aaron Gillespie, a senior from Bluefield, Va., in a 2-1 decision.
In addition to the debates, Dylan Johnson, a sophomore from Roanoke, Va., delivered a declamation that discussed the challenges for the survivalof small liberal arts colleges in the 21st century.
The inaugural debates of the revived Literary Society will continue Feb. 5, beginning at 6 p.m. in the Hermesian Room of Byars Hall. The debate is free and open to the public.
Bringing back the Hermesian Society helps to not only re-establish an E&H tradition; it also reinforces the value of a liberal arts education at a time when higher education is becoming overly specialized, according to Christensen, one of the founding members of the revived society.
“The Hermesian Society represents students of great academic diversity and with that you get a great diversity in the exchange of ideas … and you begin to operationalize everything that the liberal arts stands for.”
Members of the Hermesian Society are excited to be a part of the organization because of its historic connections to the College, Christensen said. They also see the value of the Society as it is expressed by its historic motto, “The Wealth of the Mind is the Only True Wealth.”
The phrase underscores the importance of what comes from “earning” wealth, Christensen said. During literary society debates, “whether you win or lose, you’re really earning this wealth of knowledge by participating in these discussions.”
The Hermesian Literary Society was first organized in 1841 by a group of students who had previously been members of the Calliopean Literary Society, which began a year earlier. The societies engaged in debates, readings and declamations often competing against one another in these oratorical exercises.