Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Sydney Peyser ’10, Brett Billings ’12, and Laura Bochner ’10 discuss their Lafayette experiences

During Class of 2013 Convocation ceremonies this morning, Sydney Peyser ’10 (Livingston, N.J.), Brett Billings ’12 (Marion, Kansas), and Laura Bochner ’10 (Bethlehem, Pa.) spoke about their experience at Lafayette and connections to the theme of New Student Orientation, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Sydney Peyser ’10

Good morning.

My name is Sydney Peyser, and I think, I adapt, I evolve.

I came to college thinking I was going to major in economics, but, as I enter my senior year, I find myself in the world of digital photography and graphic design. Who would have thought?

I found my passions through a series of conversations with professors and advisers and by taking classes ranging from economics to philosophy, art history, and studio art. Looking back to the fall semester of my sophomore year, I found myself in a class called Philosophy of Art, taught by Professor Giovannelli. I remember hesitating to sign up for this class because I did not know much about philosophy or art. But it was my desire to challenge myself and learn something new and completely different from what felt safe to me that pushed me to take this class.

A few days prior to the class exam, I went to see Professor Giovanelli during his office hours to discuss some questions I had about the exam. We spent most of the time discussing art and how it is such a major part of our society. This conversation led to a discussion of my for photography. Professor Giovanelli recommended that I check out the school called the International Center of Photography, to see what courses they offered that might interest me. I researched the school’s website for courses offered over winter break, and I had an “Aha!” moment when a website design class caught my eye.

I spent my winter break photographing in Yellowstone National Park and then commuting from New Jersey to Manhattan to take a rigorous website-design course at the International Center of Photography. I selected a class that was unbelievably difficult, using math and programming, that initially made me think that I’d made a big mistake. In fact, one of my classmates was a digital photography professor at NYU who was taking the class to improve her teaching skills. But I survived and persevered and constructed my own incredible website, called

When I returned to Lafayette in the spring, I emailed Professor Giovanelli as well as a geology professor, Dave Sunderlin, to show them my completed photography website filled with photographs from Yellowstone National Park. Open discussion and common interest with both professors led me to this rewarding experience. Whether we were talking about art in today’s society or the adverse environmental impact of snowmobiling in Yellowstone, both professors were always encouraging me and supporting my desire to expand my love for photography/

Now, as a studio art major, I had the pleasure of designing your orientation logo, “I think. I adapt. I evolve.” Lafayette is celebrating two important events, the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and your arrival at Lafayette. There is a correlation. Your experience at Lafayette will require you to think globally, adapt, and, eventually, evolve as thoughtful, knowledgeable, and responsible citizens of our world. Your evolution here on campus will be challenging, sometimes perplexing, often stimulating, and even a little problematic-all part of your positive growth and development over these next four years. Welcome to Lafayette, where everyone-students, faculty, coaches, administration-is standing ready to support you in achieving all your goals and dreams. Let your journey begin.

Brett Billings ’12

If I were to ask you why the seasons change, you might respond that it is because the earth tilts on its axis as it revolves around the sun. We take this for scientific fact and we consider it irrefutable. Suppose I were to ask you why there are so many species of finches or only one species of ginko. Suppose I were to ask you where humans come from. There are a number of answers, but the most widely accepted reason is-you’ve already guessed it-evolution.

This is not an easy concept to wrap your head around. Evolution is radical. It is controversial, frustrating, and deeply thought-provoking, yet is what makes all of modern biology feasible. Schools have fought legal battles over it, churches have condemned it, and people have even died for this concept of descent from a common ancestor by means of natural selection.

Another place this debate has occurred is in the theater, which offers not only entertainment, but also a unique forum where social issues can be discussed and debated, potentially resulting in change. As a high school student, I was heavily involved in the theater and jumped at any chance to perform. This was an enthusiasm that I naturally carried with me to Lafayette. Last fall, as a freshman, had the awesome luck of having Professor Mary Jo Lodge’s First-Year Seminar, Theater and Social Change. It was in her class that I first began to see theater as something more than merely show tunes and entertainment. I began to examine and question something that I had thought was pretty straightforward and, in so doing, I evolved.

A play that is a fitting example of this unique trait of theater is Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee. Written as a critique of McCarthyism in the 1950s, Inherit the Wind is a fictionalize account of the Scopes monkey trial. It portrays the real-life courtroom clash between legal legends William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow. Darrow’s fictional character poignantly argues in defense of a junior high science teacher accused of teaching his theory of evolution to the classroom, asserting that “the right to think is very much on trial.”

During Lafayette’s commemoration of Darwin, on Oct. 1-3, Lafayette College Theater will present a staged reading of Inherit the Wind. I plan to audition and encourage you to do so as well. Because of its size and dedication to a liberal-arts-based college education, Lafayette offers students the chances to perform in College Theater productions regardless of class year or major. So even if you’re studying biochemistry, like me, you can still decide to pursue other interests beyond the classroom. Not every school can say it offers these kinds of opportunities.

So here you sit, some of you thousands of miles away from home, ready to begin the next act in what will become the drama of a lifetime. Perhaps there is a feeling of stage fright, a dreaded realization that everyone’s eyes are focused on you, waiting for something to happen. You stand on stage with the humbling realization that you must now make the decision to either act your part or shrink away from the glow of the footlights. Perhaps this feeling of apprehension is what postponed Charles Darwin in his publishing of On the Origin of Species. Perhaps this feeling that all the eyes are on you afflicted the lawyer Clarence Darrow. If this feeling of anxiety afflicted these people then they overcame it.

During your time here at Lafayette, during your college experience, you will question yourself, you will have misgivings, you will sometimes doubt yourself to the verge of disbelief. But if there is one thing we can take away from these thoughts on the theater, it’s that the show will go on. You can overcome any apprehension or doubt you may have. You will walk off the stage a changed person, evidence that you too have evolved. Good luck and God bless.

Laura Bochner ’10

Good morning, my name is Lauren Bochner, and I’m honored to be here. After doing your summer reading, you know that Darwin wrote On The Origin of Species. The 150th anniversary of the publication of this book, putting forth natural selection as the mechanism for evolution, is in part why Darwin and his ideas are being celebrated this year. And although he did not use the term in the book, the word evolution has become intimately linked with the name Charles Darwin.

Darwin’s ideas relating to evolution have been misapplied over the years, and scientists are often sensitive about the use of the word evolution.  Biologists have a precise definition for the term, and as a student of science, I understand its biological meaning. But nevertheless, I want to talk about evolution, and not in a Darwinian sense, but the personal sense, as in personal evolution throughout college.

As Professor Dave Sunderlin pointed out in paleobiology class last semester, the everyday definition of evolution is simply change over time. Even, he said, stars evolve. At Lafayette, a liberal arts college that encourages intellectual exploration, your academic interests will likely evolve. You may change your mind about what you want to major in. You may change your mind twice. You may pick up a double major or a minor in a subject you found fascinating unexpectedly. Though, like Sydney, I came to Lafayette with other plans. I declared my major as geology in sophomore year, and it was an exciting moment for me.

You are about to become members of an intellectual community that celebrates curiosity and offers you boundless opportunity to explore your interests. You passions may be kindled in the classroom, but they could also be inspired by EXCEL research with a professor, a study abroad experience, an internship, volunteering around Easton, or work for a club.

In my own experience, all of these things have contributed to my personal growth and evolution. For the past two years, I have been collaborating with Professor Kira Lawrence on her research in paleoclimatology, and this summer, I traveled to Ireland to work on a related research project. Last summer, I was interning in Washington, D.C. working at the intersection of geoscience and public policy. And here at Lafayette, I have learned much in my experiences in the organizations Lafayette Environment Awareness and Protection, known as LEAP, and Alternate School Break club, known as ASB. Taking advantage of the opportunities at Lafayette was gratifying for me. If you take advantage of the opportunities available to you here, you too will have a rich college experience.

The students you’ve heard from this morning have grown and evolved from their Lafayette experiences. Now yours are beginning. Let your evolution commence. Thank you.

Categorized in: News and Features
Tagged with: