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The longest academic year in living memory is finally done. Please thank any teacher you know. It has been A LOT.
Still, there’s also that end of the semester pride in all the ways students and colleagues still managed to show up and get through. At graduation this Saturday—actually, I should say graduations since we’re doing a celebration for 2020 in the morning and for 2021 in the afternoon—I’ll be so pleased to be a joyful witness to our students’ achievement. Maybe even more than usual, given all the last years have held.
It’s customary, of course, for professors (especially professors who are tending ever more towards extreme middle age) to give advice to their departing students. Everyone’s exhausted this year, so I’ll keep it short:
- You are loved—nothing you will do or be will make you more beloved by God. We all love you quite a bit, too—and we are genuinely excited to see what God will do in and through you. Noli timere. Don’t be afraid
- You are enough. My beloved George Eliot says it this way: “The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.” Or as my late mother often directed: “Look around and see what needs to be done.” Usually, Platonic ideals do not accomplish much, nor do expectations that we or others need to be just so.
- You are not alone. One thing I love in Dante’s Commedia is that Dante has guides all along the way, from the dark wood through Hell and Purgatory, all the way to Paradise. He never is expected to navigate on his own–he is in conversation the entire way. And in Purgatory, one of the things he learns is that he and his guide cannot travel at night: it is made for rest. These two principles—community and Sabbath—are key to Dante’s ultimate readiness for the end of his journey into the heavens. Another of my favorite writers, the poet Christina Rossetti, makes much the same point in her poem, “Up-Hill.” I leave it for a commencement gift.
The thing about commencement is that it’s actually for all of us: for graduates to be sent into the next stage of their lives, but for the rest of us to hear again the words of encouragement that we all need, imperfect as we are.
by Christina Rossetti
Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend. But is there for the night a resting-place? A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. May not the darkness hide it from my face? You cannot miss that inn. Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? Those who have gone before. Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? They will not keep you standing at that door. Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum. Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come.