When Pi Gamma Mu's 2008 triennial international convention convened on October 23, 2008, there were just 12 days to go before a captivatingly historic presidential election. Delegates gathered at the elegant Hilton Atlanta Airport hotel to celebrate politics, history in the making, and riveting societal change. It was a perfect time to reflect on what the social sciences contribute to our understanding of social systems, on the potential of social-science research and humanitarian action to improve the quality of life and alleviate suffering, and on the mysteries and wonders of how people organize their neighborhoods and their organized establishments.
After an opening session and a "Name That Tune" ice-breaker, the attendees produced the stuffed animals that they brought with them to Atlanta as delegates to our mock presidential nominating convention. As student trustees Kimberly Prentice and Taryn Hall Daniels presided over the proceedings, attendees nominated their stuffed animals and announced the nominees' campaign platforms. The campaign promises became increasingly inflated, and so we were offered tuition-free education, the cancellation of all outstanding student-loan balances, and all kinds of luxurious university accommodations that would turn tourists on the French Riviera green with envy! After we learned a good lesson about the spiral effect of unrepressed political ambition, Susan Landrum, development manager of Atlanta's Partnership Against Domestic Violence, gratefully accepted all of the stuffed animals as a donation for the children who spend time at the organization's battered-women's shelters. At our 2002 convention in Atlanta, after we had the memorable "Teddy Bear Pageant," we donated the teddy bears to the PADV, too, so Pi Gamma Mu has developed a very gratifying relationship with this splendid human-service organization.
As always, Friday's events were the centerpiece of the convention, and what a day it was! Twelve student members presented sophisticated research papers on topics ranging from Amazon warriors to how people develop first impressions of others. The presentations were first-rate, and the presenters did a fine job of sharing their research with their fellow Pi Gamma Mu members. Five student members displayed posters about research that they have conducted or that is in progress, and other attendees expressed fascination about the innovative research projects that the posters depicted. In the afternoon, delegates elected Eric Knutson to serve as Pi Gamma Mu's "Shadow President." As the "Shadow President," Eric will propose policy ideas and second-guess the initiatives and decisions of President Barack Obama, which he will discuss in an occasional column in this newsletter.
Friday's agenda culminated in the gala convention banquet. Dr. Gordon E. Mercer, our international president, presided over a ceremony to present awards to dedicated volunteers and, with second vice president Charles McClellan's and past president Jean Karlen's assistance, to induct new members of the Pi Gamma Mu Hall of Fame. Then, Georgia Commissioner of Labor Michael L. Thurmond captivated the audience with the keynote address. Well-known in the region as an eloquent and fascinating speaker, the commissioner discussed the state of American politics and society at a time when black and female politicians have become much more significant factors in the results of elections in the United States. Mr. Thurmond is the first-ever African-American to be elected, as a non-incumbent, to statewide political office in Georgia, and it was fortuitous (although not foreseen when we booked the commissioner for the appearance in early 2007) that he spoke to us less than two weeks before the election of the first black president of the United States. The next day, delegates were still talking about Commissioner Thurmond's address and reflecting on his observations about American politics in the 21st century.
Saturday morning began with informative workshops and then became melodious with a stirring performance by the highly regarded North Georgia College & State University Patriot Choir, led by Dr. John M. Broman, NGCSU's dynamic choral director and music professor. President Mercer installed the members of the Board of Trustees for the new triennial period at the closing session. In the afternoon, delegates boarded a bus that took some of them to the CNN Center and others to the Martin Luther King Jr. historical site (including the Ebenezer Baptist Church) on Atlanta's Auburn Avenue, the venerable cradle of the civil-rights movement. The tour concluded with dinner at the renowned Mary Mac's Tea Room, from which none of us left hungry owing to the large portions and the restaurant's all-you-can-eat generosity.
Members of Pi Gamma Mu who missed this convention missed out on an unforgettable experience. It is difficult to express, in the form of an essay, the fellowship and communion that these conventions cultivate. If you haven't attended one of our conventions, please make a mental note: We'll do this again in October 2011, and that convention will be unforgettable, too.
Barry D. Friedman
First Vice President