Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Still Small Voice of Gratitude

The Still Small Voice of Gratitude

Yesterday, Susquehanna celebrated its 161st commencement ceremony. I had the sublime privilege of conferring degrees on the University’s 525 newest graduates. This was my second year as the agent who confers the degree and therefore the person who hands the students their diplomas.

For fourteen years, as Provost/Dean at other institutions, I read the names of the graduates. I loved that job. I got to be the herald proclaiming each graduate’s entry into the company of learned people. I was proud of them, and I had the gleeful role of campus crier.

To my surprise I have discovered that my new role is even more rewarding. I get to watch each of their faces as they cross the stage. Some are nervous, some teary-eyed (so am I), some of them are humbled (so am I), some are ecstatic, most are clearly proud, and every one of them said “Thank you.”

At Susquehanna, the night before commencement, we hold a Baccalaureate that is different from any other so named event that I have attended. It is an occasion to formally gather with families and friends and give thanks. Selected students give reflections and readings. They give thanks for the experiences they have had, for the support of faculty and staff, and for the extraordinary opportunity to be in community with each other.

That event is followed by a grand party in the campus center attended by the impending graduates, their families (grandparents to baby nieces and nephews), faculty, and staff. Scores of our wonderful staff colleagues volunteer to help serve and bus hours after their regular shifts and not so many hours before they return to campus to support graduation.

At yesterday’s ceremony, I said, “We need Susquehanna graduates now more than ever. We need you to become voices for reason in your communities. We need you to be advocates for justice, for human dignity, and  for the breadth and depth of intellectual endeavors.”

We really do need them. These are young people who take nothing for granted. They recognize the sacrifices and privileges of their achievements, they are deeply committed to the welfare of others, and they have the self-awareness and dignity to be sincerely thankful.

As Thomas Gray wrote centuries ago:

Sweet is the breath of vernal shower,
The bee’s collected treasures sweet,
Sweet music’s melting fall, but sweeter yet
The still small voice of gratitude.[1]

It is sweet indeed.

Congratulations to the Class of 2019 and thank you!

[1] Thomas Gray: Ode for Music [1769], l. 61


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