Last Monday, the Mercersburg community gathered in the Simon Theatre for the annual Ammerman Family Lecture. “The Ammerman Lecture brings to the community speakers of national renown who have important perspectives on significant issues of the day and the capacity to help young people understand the relevance of such issues in their lives,” said School Minister Will Whitmore.
This year’s speaker was Dr. Dachner Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. In his academic work, Keltner is a prominent researcher in emotional science with over 200 scientific article publications and six books. Keltner also hosts the award-winning podcast The Science of Happiness and worked as a scientific expert for the well-known Pixar animated film Inside Out in 2015. Whitmore said, “Dr. Keltner was selected due to his unique research and perspective. We believe our community can learn from him and his research on awe.”
During his presentation, Keltner shared his studies about the science of awe and his recently published book, Awe. Additionally, Keltner discussed his list of the eight wonders of life, which included arts, nature, and religion. About his personal doctrine of the psychology of happiness, Keltner said, “We need to move beyond individualism and to start thinking about how we connected to bigger things than the self – that’s what awe is. It makes you aware of the fact that you are in a community.”
The audience engaged with Keltner’s ideas at a high level by asking questions in the final minutes of the session and with several students staying after the program to continue the discussion. William Tutt ‘25 said, “I feel like he was able to make me feel very interested in the subject. I was even lucky enough to see him after his speech and talk to him for a few minutes.” Dr. Keltner’s concept of awe also gave Justin An ‘23 a moment to reflect on his perception of reality; “His concept of awe is actually something we experience quite often in our lives, and I think many of us failed to notice its importance until now.” Day Kim ‘23 said, “ Although it is quite a cliché, even though we all know that many moments should be sought for, we don’t actively pursue them. It is important to be constantly be looking for something that interests and inspires you.”
As his parting gift to students, Keltner offered three pieces of advice on the quest for happiness in life. “The first is to find one way to find peace when you are stressed out. The second is always find where your sense of community is, as well as friendship, and just cultivate that. The third is awe – which is to find your sources of awe and they will tell you what to really care about.”
Additionally, interested community members met with Keltner during the first Block on Tuesday, just prior to his departure from campus.