We are Saved by Love
[These were my remarks to the class of 2022 at their commencement on Saturday.]
It is an especially tough time to be a 21 or 22-year-old. Frankly, it’s not the easiest time to be a 58-year-old.
When most of you arrived at SU, none of us could have anticipated the tumultuous events of the past four years. As we welcomed you on August 23rd 2018, I spoke about our academic theme of Resilience stating:
The Liberal Arts provide us with an array of viewpoints and historical perspectives so we can better contextualize and understand the challenges we encounter in our lives.
In anticipation of the myriad inevitabilities we all face, you are here to develop the tools to live your lives as fully as you can, to respond to challenges with grit and poise, and to lift up those around us whose resolve is spent.
I then spoke about the need to be courageous:
Courage and bravery are not the same thing. Often the only difference between bravery and stupidity is who’s telling the tale. Courage, on the other hand, is deep. It is built upon faith and wisdom, and fundamentally, it is selfless. You are here to seek wisdom and to develop the moral courage to become leaders of consequence, to become resilient, and to cultivate resilience in those around you.
Little did any of us know how this would be tested and proved again and again throughout your matriculation.
A global pandemic, an eruption of social unrest in response to systemic inequities, an attack on our nation’s capital by bands of its own citizens, and a major world power waging war on a neighboring democracy; senseless mass shootings, climate change, continual assaults on the truth, and politicization of fundamental moral principles. We are fraying, and we are afraid.
Now sounding prophetic, I recited this passage from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Second Coming,” at your opening convocation:
Turning and turning in
the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Written a century ago, it sounds as if Yeats is describing this moment in history. Maybe it would have rung as true a century before he wrote it, or even a century before then.
Perhaps Dickens’s description is evergreen, and it has always been the best of times and the worst of times, but I am more optimistic for the future because of you. I believe you are capable of relegating our worst times to the past.
I believe this because I have seen what you are capable of doing;
I believe this because I know what you have learned; and
I believe this because I have witnessed your kindness, your compassion, your passion, and your goodness countless times as we have journeyed together.
You persevered when you were scattered across the nation and the globe unable to return to campus.
You added your voices to the millions who advocated for justice in its many forms in your communities and on our campus. You listened to the smallest voices and echoed them so all might hear.
You took care of each other, you made sacrifices to keep each other safe and healthy, and pushing against seemingly infinite resistance from the world around us, you arrived at this spot. You have made our mission statement manifest.
Those of you who know it, please join me.
Susquehanna University educates students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.
This is not a pithy slogan. It is the foundation of global citizenship and the fruit of a liberal education. Over the coming years, I hope you will reflect on how these lofty goals continue to unfold in your own lives and how your unprecedented experiences at Susquehanna have cultivated your capacity to live this mission to its fullest.
This is what our weary, hungry world needs – your driven achievement, your selfless leadership, your committed service, and, most of all, your moral courage.
Our democracy was biproduct of the Scottish Enlightenment, which embraced the humanist spirit of the Western Enlightenment that celebrated the nobility and worth of each individual and valued the respective reason they possessed. The Scottish Enlightenment took this further by rejecting authority that was not likewise governed by reason.
This balance of individual autonomy and collective coherence has been critical to the survival of our republic and to that of subsequent democracies around the world. Our future as a nation and as a global community depends upon our ability to inclusively embrace all peoples, to reconcile what is true, and to govern ourselves through reason for the common good.
You have seen first-hand how truly interdependent we are. We are able to be here today because you chose to work as a community for the common good, and nearly every setback we experienced resulted from a moment when someone lost sight of that. As leaders, you must always choose the common good.
Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”
Our progress will require hope, faith, and love – these you have in abundance.
Class of 2022, you are graduating into an alarmingly broken world, but I am hopeful because I know what you can do. I am so proud of you, of what you have accomplished, and even prouder of what you will achieve.