Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Commencement Remarks

Commencement Remarks

Members of the class of 2018. We are gathered here to celebrate your graduation, but we are also here to celebrate and recognize the accomplishment of the many people who made this day possible.

First, I would like to ask the faculty and staff present to stand so our graduates can express their gratitude. These are the people who have sustained, frustrated, and inspired you in your journeys at Susquehanna. You can best honor them by applying what you have learned from them in your careers and as you become leaders in your communities.

Next, would the families and friends of our graduates stand to be recognized and thanked. These are the people that encouraged you, loved you, and made significant sacrifices so you could be here. They will continue to be with you as you undertake the next steps in your respective odysseys.

Lastly, we should take a moment to think about those whose gifts have made it possible for all of us to be here. Susquehanna began as a gift of land and funds from the leaders of Selinsgrove to create the Missionary Institute and a collegiate home for the daughters and sons of local families who were not called to religious service. Since then, every Susquehanna student has benefitted in significant ways from the support of alumni and friends of the university, many of whom provided gifts to support generations of students they would never see. It is a remarkable and inspiring legacy.

Members of the class of 2018, we mark the close of your academic careers at Susquehanna University with this celebration of commencement. Commencement refers to the beginning.

Ours is a business of beginnings, beginnings that unfold in myriad directions, the measure of which is seen in the span of the lives of those who call this place alma mater. Please remember that Susquehanna will always be your alma mater, and you are always welcome home.

We are here to celebrate the seeds that have been planted in you, which we anticipate will emerge in glorious splendor as each of you makes your mark on the world. This is your time to exercise the leadership for which you have been preparing.

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote:

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”[1]  (endquote)

Ours is a business of beginnings. We gather today to send you forth to engage your future with reckless abandon and your world with wonder and tenderness. We are here to wish for you, the life Mary Oliver wished for herself when she wrote:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.”[2]

Ours is a business of beginnings. Each year we welcome a new class to begin their academic journeys, and every year we bid bon voyage to a class whom we have challenged, cajoled, and supported during their matriculation. This is the life cycle of the university.

Although today marks my first commencement at Susquehanna and the first at which I have the honor of conferring degrees, this is the 32nd year as a professor or administrator that I will watch a class graduate. Every year I am more excited to be a part of the ceremony, because with each new year, I have an ever-richer knowledge of what lies before you, what you can accomplish, and how your experiences here will help make it possible.

When I was a first-year university student, I read the following poem for the first time, but being fresh to the academy, I could not adequately appreciate Walt Whitman’s sentiment in his poem for the inauguration of a public school. Now that appreciation grows with each passing year.

AN old man's thought of school,
An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.

Now only do I know you,
O fair auroral skies - O morning dew upon the grass!

And these I see, these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,
Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships,
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the soul's voyage.[3]  (endquote)

One of the great rewards of university life is that we enjoy a state of perpetual renewal. Each day we have the opportunity to chart a new course in Whitman’s proverbial soul’s voyage. Each year we are renewed as we send forth a class of students we have come to know and love, whom we have provoked and nurtured, and from whom we too have learned much.

Thank you for that, and congratulations to you all as you commence to “sail out over the measureless seas, On your souls’ voyages.”

[1] W.E.B. Du Bois: Prayers for Dark People.
[2] Mary Oliver: “When Death Comes” from New and Selected Poems (1992).
[3] Walt Whitman: “For the Inauguration of a Public School, Camden, New Jersey,
1874,” in
Leaves of Grass, 1891.


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