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This is a season in which students who have been studying for years, who have been preparing themselves for something coming, end their season of preparation and set out to make a life. This is the season of their new beginnings.
As I write this, I am one day away from speaking at the commencement ceremony for the UCC related Elmhurst University. My colleagues Traci Blackmon and Karen Georgia Thompson are likewise speaking to graduates at Spellman College and Heidelberg College respectively. In this time of new beginnings, when graduates are called upon to commence – to start, to begin – there is a responsibility for leaders like myself and Traci and Karen Georgia to speak a word that inspires graduates to use their time in preparation to launch a lifetime of commitments to the common good.
This is the moment of which Robert Frost wrote when he penned his poem “The Road Less Taken,” using the convergence of two roads diverging in a yellow wood as a metaphor for that moment when we must decide which pathway we will spend our days walking.
That is what is meant by commencement. While we all tend to see graduation as a ceremony marking an ending, an accomplishment, a termination something entirely different is actually happening. The call is for the graduates to focus less on what they have done and more on what they will do.
The order of the day is not to reflect but to commence; not to end but to begin.
I want to use this time now to congratulate all graduates. Those donning their robes in the days and weeks ahead have come to this moment by living through the collective trauma that was COVID. Almost their entire educational career was spent not only learning new and important concepts, but learning how to learn those new and important concepts in an environment neither they nor their professors had any idea how to navigate. They invented a whole new way of getting an education and have come out the other side of it maybe wounded, maybe scarred, but fully educated, fully prepared to begin, and deeply aware of their capacity to not only survive trauma but thrive through it. That may be their most important learning as well as their most significant contribution to their future success in life.
And so to the graduating class of 2023 we all say Commence!
Choose your path and start your life.
We await your wisdom.
We covet your contributions.
We desire your passion and energy and enthusiasm and hope.
The world is in want of what you have been given in terms of ability, talent, vision, and preparation. Whatever journey you take, may it enrich the communities in which you dwell and grant you the joy of labors loved and lives changed. The world itself is gratified by your commitments and celebrates your calling.
Commence. We stand ready to receive all that you have to offer on this, our journey Into the Mystic.
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