A Bittersweet Graduation

We're almost there! It is Graduation morning. Today I will say goodbye to fourteen young men, most of whom have lived in my dorm for three years. Some years you want to help them pack and hustle them out the door, but that's not the case for me this year. I woke up after about three hours of sleep with a lump in my throat, so today's goodbyes should be something.  I was honored to be asked to give the Faculty Reflection at yesterday's Baccalaureate, and this is what I wrote:

2018 Baccalaureate Faculty Reflection

Recently a student asked me how long I’ve worked at Governor’s and when I told him 23 years, his jaw dropped. Then he asked, “Don’t you get bored doing the same thing year after year?” I assured him that each class is different and no year is the same. But for some reason, this year feels especially poignant for me. When I think of your class, I think of your humor, your passion, your big hearts . If you know me, you know that I love to have the last word, so I thank you for this opportunity.

When my own children were heading off to college, I spent the summer reinforcing lessons that I worried they had missed in the previous 18 years. Things like seperate your white clothes from your darks; wash your hands…...a lot; change your sheets and your toothbrush frequently. Don’t get a fake ID. Call your grandparents. Don’t put your cup down at a party. Wear your seatbelt. Take a multivitamin.  My kids couldn’t wait to get to college.

So very quickly I want to share a few lessons that I worry we haven’t covered during your time here.

Lesson #1: Life is hard.  Today you are looking your best. You are smart and fit and healthy and happy. This is a weekend with a special shine to it, isn’t it? But I regret to inform you that it won’t always be like this. I realize that some of you already know this; some of you have faced health issues or unspeakable losses. But most of you haven’t . So here’s the truth: You will have days, months, sometimes years that are tough. You will break hearts, and your hearts will be broken. You won’t get a job; you’ll bomb an audition; you’ll deeply disappoint someone you love, and you will be disappointed. You will have sleepless nights worrying about a loved one or money or a doctor’s call. But here’s the good news: this too shall pass. With each cycle of tough times, you will get tougher. Life is hard.

Lesson #2)  Look Up

You are the generation of digital natives. You understand technology on a cellular level, it seems.  You also look at your phones. A lot.

A few of you are aware of my own fifteen minutes of fame on Twitter this winter. For those of you who aren’t, I responded to a 19 year old “Twitter celebrity” who insisted that all good teachers should be armed in the classroom. My response, after a long night of dorm duty, was somewhat snarky. I tweeted, “I’m a teacher. Sit down son.” The next morning I woke up to over 5k likes and by the end of the day, almost 9k likes and over 800 retweets. My snarky tweet had gone viral!  My students informed me that this was a big deal;one even suggested that we make t-shirts with #sitdownson emblazoned on them and sell them in the bookstore. I don’t tell you this to brag but to let you know that the glory is fleeting. No, I did not become famous nor am I a social media sensation. I enjoy social media but let me remind you: it’s not real.What you see on Instagram: not real. Remember that snap from two weeks ago? No? Of course you don’t. That’s my point.

You know what’s real?  Look around you; look straight at the teachers in front of you with whom you’ve shared the past four years;  look at the friends next to you and at your families behind you. That’s what’s real.

Remember to  look up so you don’t miss a thing.

Lesson #3) The next lesson comes from my grandmother who taught me that language matters.She was a woman who knew the power of a kind word. My grandmother would speak to anyone: her neighbors; the church ladies; an elderly person; a child, a stranger and when she spoke, she left them with a word of encouragement, of kindness. And it made a difference.

It might surprise you to know that when I was a child I could be somewhat sassy. I was too quick with a sarcastic response, and my grandmother didn’t like this.  She made me memorize a verse from the Book of Proverbs in the OT: A word aptly spoken is like a silver  bowl filled with gold apples. Not only is it a beautiful image, but it is an important reminder that language has power and it matters.

Lesson #4)  Expand your idea of love.

Like many of you in the audience, last Saturday I watched parts of the Royal Wedding . Ok, I was glued to the television for hours. I loved the dresses and the music and spotting Serena Williams and  Elton John. One of my favorite parts of the ceremony was the sermon by Bishop Michael Curry who spoke passionately about the transformative power of love. He reminded the wedding guests of the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr words: "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."  Perhaps when you  think of love, you think of romantic love, that glorious feeling of pounding heart and sweaty palms, but I don’t think that’s what Dr. King was talking about. I want to challenge you to consider how you might bring love, this redemptive love, to college with you; to your work; to your neighborhoods. It’s not easy, right? I want to challenge you, this great group of people with big hearts, to consider how you are going to bring love into the business world; into medicine; into education; into law; please, even into politics. It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it? But I think that’s what Dr. King was talking about when he said this redemptive power of love will make this old world a new world.  Make it your world by bringing love into all that you do..

Lesson #5)  The last lesson:  BE NICE TO YOUR FAMILY- Your families have arrived to celebrate this milestone with you. Some have come from across the world; others drove from home this morning. But here’s what I know: their hearts are bursting with pride, and they’re also aching a little bit. It seems that just yesterday that they held you; watched you take your first step; took you to kindergarten; dropped you off here. Yes, they are celebrating, but they are also aching a little bit, so slow your roll. In the next few days, when they hug you hard, let them hug you a little longer than usual. Look them in the eyes, and say thank you.  You may not understand the depth of your family's love for you until you have your own. So before you rush off to your graduation gatherings, look up. These are the people that will stand with you through all the chapters of your lives.

And finally, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest he writes, "The past is prologue". Recently I sat in the Common Room with a group of young men, some of whom were dreading the inevitable goodbyes that graduation bring. When I assured them that they’d see each other again, one answered, “But it will never be the same.” And he was right. Remember I told you that life is hard?  But also remember Shakespeare’s reminder: Your past is your prologue. Your story is just beginning.


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