I was not the keynote speaker, but I was asked to give a speech at graduation—a tough job I think. I’ve heard a ton of them before during these ceremonies and I only remember part of one. But I think there is something to be noted, so I noted it and kept it short—under five minutes. If nothing else, at least the speech didn’t drag on.
Welcome to everyone present, to the students graduating by receiving their certificates or degrees and to those of us sharing this time together.
Graduation is a celebration of disciplines accomplished.
Commencement is a celebration of new beginnings—the freedom to start anew.
I think it true that through our discipline, we can gain our freedom. Certainly a balanced life requires both—discipline without freedom can be like marching in mandatory lockstep, freedom without discipline can be like marching without an arrow of direction.
There are many graduations this time of year. But the exercise of true commencement, as opposed to traveling just well-worn paths, is not so common. And it is not just the graduates that can undertake a new start, but all of us.
I am going to suggest that any judicious new start requires both discipline and freedom.
The psychologist Alfred Adler thought the way we frame and interpret our experience—the meanings we give our life—have much more to do with our lives than the events themselves.
Perhaps we could say:
The facts of the lives we’ve lived may be now immutable, but the interpretations are not. If we want to change our relationships, our expectations, the way we live in the world—we must start with the way we frame our interpretations.
The facts of our lives yet to come, are not just written in stone, but will arise according to our way of seeing—change how we see, change the facts to be.
Our sense of presence is not just born from the facts and interpretations of past or future, but also by our ability to sometimes just be aware, without remembrances or expectations. For instance, when we truly listen, we do not interpret, we do not expect; we have presence—and we all know how precious being present and listened to can be.
In other words, our sense of past, present, and future—our sense of life and meaning—have a lot to do with us, we are not just being ridden by events. If we wish to steer the events of our lives, if we wish to reframe our perspective, if we wish to make the changes in the world we need, those are the changes we must first become.
Individuals have, and can surely continue to accomplish such changes, such reframing. But as a community of such individuals, we can do much more, much truer, and much faster.
For all those graduating here today with their certificates and their degrees, you have gained both some discipline and some freedom. Your accomplishments and your commencement of those two great pillars are not just about the quality of your life, but the quality of all our lives. That understanding is your sacred stewardship.
For those of us not receiving degrees or certificates here today, we are still present, sharing in this moment. We may not be graduating, but surely we can commence along with the graduates here today.
When we do this together, it is called community. That understanding is our sacred stewardship.
So, our students are not just graduating today, they are commencing. We have not let them go it alone so far—we are called a Community College for a very good reason!
Let us then welcome our graduates, and let us then commence together, a celebration of disciplines accomplished, freedoms gained, and stewardships accepted.
Now go out there and help us fix these messes we keep managing to create, and help stop them from coming around anymore…