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If I Could Have Addressed Wheaton College’s Class of 2012 on Graduation Day, This is What I Might Have Said

May 25, 2012

[Tomorrow it will be a week since graduation and I’ve had a generous time to reflect. During Senior Week, a conversation came up with some friends and the idea of giving a speech to our class came up. This morning, on an early bus ride from Providence to New York, I began to write and write and write. If given the opportunity to address my class during graduation, here is what I might have said.]

Look around you. We are surrounded. Our celebrations are both loud in the shouts and cheers we hear and make; and quiet, fluttering deep inside our chests. Look around you. We are surrounded. Wrapped in looks of pride, and in support and encouragement embodied by the people that have mattered and the people that stand with us today, all around this beautiful sunken green that is our Dimple. Look around you. We are laced in sunlight, bright with hope, laced in promise.

Take a real second right now, to inhale, exhale and remain in this moment.

You have done it. We have done it. We are graduating!

How beautiful it is to see each of our journeys celebrated here today, together. Each of us has had a distinct narrative that led us, dragged us, danced us or even tormented us to this day. Some of our journeys have been tear-stricken, some more sleep deprived, some more intoxicated, and for others still, quite surprisingly calm.

We all have different stories, and represent different paths taken at this college, each one beautiful and rather incomparable to the other. But one thing I am sure is true, none of us have simply sailed through. We have all received our own share of difficulties, faced our own roadblocks, pushed our own limits. None of us arrived as first year students with complete confidence and faith in the four years that lay ahead of us. It has certainly not been all fun and games, nothing in life ever is or should be. We each have had our losses, our failures, our missteps and our heartaches. None of us today are left unchanged, but each of us are stronger, brighter, more eloquent or more persuasive versions of ourselves. Some of us are here fully content, while others of us find ourselves craving for more time. Some of us cannot wait to depart, while some of us still sit in our seats in denial. However, despite our successes, our accomplishments and our awards, none of us, none of us sitting in the dimple today, with beads of nervous, and excited sweat forming underneath our dark robes, none of us can say that we have done it alone.

The Class of 2012! (photo from Wheaton College)

So thank you, to all those that surround us, in body and spirit, cheering us on and standing with us to the end – family, friends, professors, faculty, staff and peers. You may have only known us in passing, held the door open for us one time in Balfour, met us once at a party, cleaned our toilets for us, served us at the dining hall, watched us arrive late to your class every Monday, cheered at our games, applauded at our performances, or read our essay in your class. Or, you may have reviewed our application to Wheaton, sorted our mail for us, listened to us rant over the phone, held us when we cried, brought food to our dorm room when we were sick, referred us to sources for our theses, sat with us at lunch every Thursday, drove us to the train station when we missed the Gatra, granted us our summer fellowships or spent hours and hours with us in your office going over class material. Thank you for keeping the value of community alive, for preserving beautiful traditions and for making Wheaton the home it has been for us. Thank you, thank you, thank you, the class of 2012 thanks all of you. The love that converges here is simply overwhelming.

Dear class, as we graduate today, walk across this stage, receive our diplomas, say our goodbyes, pack up our cars and drive away- start also to collect your stories, if you haven’t yet begun. Collect your stories, maybe not all at once and not right away, because this all takes time. But when you finally find the time, and most definitely make time if you must– sit down, pause, breathe (we all know how little of this we have done in the past couple of weeks), sit down, pause, breathe and consider all the treasures you have found, the masterpieces you have made and all the wild flowers that have found their way into your life’s garden. Your treasures are the people you have met, loved or cared for, and the people who have met you, loved or cared for you. Your masterpieces- the essays you wrote, the problem sets you solved, the songs you arranged or the games you won as a team. The wildflowers – the unlikely friendships, the unexpected study partners, the spur of the moment adventures, the unanticipated favor from a friend, the unforeseen A+, and all the small but serendipitous surprises.

Gather these stories, your stories, and for a little bit of time, just hold them.

Consider your treasures, your masterpieces, your wildflowers. Consider all the light you have let into your life and all the light you yourself have shared – in simple moments, in stupid jokes you’ll soon forget, in the stumble home from Sporties, in the hours you’ve spent talking and not eating in Chase, in the sunny afternoons on Chapel Field, in late night snacks at the Loft, in the class discussion sharing your ideals, or the snowy nights sledding down the dimple. Regret nothing of our four years, because regrets are dead weight. Count it all as experience.

Dear class, my soul is richer for having met all of you. And if jobs are sparse, if the economy forsakes us, and if we are drowning in debt,… When all our old things rot and mold, …And if the world comes to an end this year, as so many people have anticipated, untouched still will be the memories we have made, the lessons we have learned and the value of this experience at college with each other.

That they may have life and have it abundantly, are the words on our library facade, borrowed from Jesus. Four years ago, we walked into Wheaton and perhaps thought that this abundant life would take place here, on our campus, in the hallways of Everett, the classrooms of Meneely, the offices in Knapton, the dances in Balfour, the stage in Weber Theater, or the games in Haas. Yes, there has certainly been abundant life here. But for many, most or perhaps all of us, the abundant life truly begins today. The four years on this campus have made that possible.

Today we graduate- one of the very few milestones our class will ever share as one. We are here for but a brief moment, to share joy together, before once again departing. Life will take us different places, once again we will live out stories unique to each of us. Some of us will drive a short way home, others will fly for hours. Some of us will move away, and some of us will stay. Some of us begin work and “real life” on Monday, others of us will be unemployed and only begin to look for work on Tuesday. Some of us will quickly pursue our dreams, finding promptly the path or paths which lead us there. Others of us will take our time to wander, and slowly discover our hearts desires, moving at our own patient pace. Still, others of us will continue to choose winding roads, courageous free falls, never ending marathons, and mind-boggling labyrinths every step of the way.

One thing remains true, however, as true as it was in our lives at Wheaton – we will never be able to do it alone. There is freedom in realizing that all our success has not been garnered simply by our own merit, our own hard work, or our own perseverance, although each of these things are instrumental.

Learn from the people who are here with us today. Recall the many ways, both simple and grand, that they have supported us and encouraged us – our parents, our mentors, our friends. Thank them, and seek to do what they have done for us, for someone else.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said “Own only what you can always carry with you. Know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.”

Dear class, as we leave and as we live, be generous with the things that cost nothing in common currency, like kind words, respect, or patience. Most especially, be generous with our joy. We will find ourselves repaid in full, if not right away, without a doubt in the days, years or decades to follow. Let us surround ourselves with people who inspire us. As we leave and as we live, travel light, and with the kind of wealth no one can take away from you or steal. Leave behind us a trail of gratitude and of service. Hold on to our stories, to our experiences, to those conversations, to those moments, to those memories. They are worth it. These four years have been worth it. And there is only so much more to come- greater, brighter, more challenging, more awe-inspiring things. Congratulations Class of 2012!! You are beautiful!

Celebratory dance after graduation!

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