Hello Class of 2016! Welcome families, friends, faculty, staff, and administration to our commencement for our class of two-thousand-and-sixteen.
I would like to begin by sharing a story with you all. This winter, I embarked on my first HOPE service immersion trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our group of fifteen spent a week of winter break learning about justice issues affecting Native American communities as well related concerns within global environmentalism. Our first night in Santa Fe, we were graciously invited to witness a ceremony within the Tesuque Native community. The following day, the chief of the Tesuque, Louis, came to our casita to speak with our group. As we finished speaking together and asking our questions, one of our group asked Louis, ‘What can we do?’ - ‘How can we share your message with others?’ Louis did not miss a beat. He said, ‘Change your ways. Change is hard, but you have to change your habits. Know what you’re eating; start building a relationship with Earth mom; learn how to grow your own food.’
I share this story because to me, Louis is really talking about awareness. Awareness is the first step toward a more fulfilling relationship with the greater community, others, and ourselves.
How can we become more aware in our communities? For starters, we need to ask questions. Ask questions. And if you don’t get satisfying answers, keep searching for different sources and questions until you start to see a clearer picture. Too often we can already sway our research by looking for certain types of answers, or only asking certain types of questions. I realize that from writing my philosophy thesis. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to other people’s questions, and to even ask them why those questions are meaningful. If we are going to be accountable members of any community, we need to commit to fully understanding and how and why communities act in certain ways.
My awareness of others has become much keener from my experiences as a substitute teacher. The little kids are my favorite group because they are so honest. One preschooler told me, ‘You have funky hair’. “Oh,” I said in thanks, and amazement at his vocabulary. Then he said, ‘I don’t like it’ haha’. But really, children are not afraid to tell you their concerns, ask their questions, or cry, scream, - really, demand your undivided attention in any effective way. Children remind me that we really just want other people’s quality attention. Children don’t want your money or your wisdom - even ipads get old after a while. All they want is your time and love, and I don’t think that ever really ends as we grow up. Sure, we learn how to hide it, or present it in socially acceptable ways, but I challenge you to give and be brave enough to ask for some quality time with others, with no phones, tv, or computers in the background. I think you’ll find that giving and receiving quality attention is one of life’s most special gifts.
Finally, we can’t forget that we are in a continual relationship with ourselves. Life will push and pull us in many directions, but we will always be our own best friend, or worst enemy. Don’t be afraid to have ‘me’ time. As Parks and Recreation says, Treat yourself! Pay attention if you react strongly to something; maybe a corporate job isn’t for you even if you thought it was the way to go. Maybe you want to go back to school again, and grad school really does mean that much to you. It seems clear to me that society is not your best friend. Society doesn’t seem to make time for a relaxing lunch or an opportunity to craft your poetry. Society doesn’t say that it’s okay to have messy hair some days, or to cut it differently if you feel like it. Society doesn’t support that it’s okay to be sad or outraged if that’s what you’re feeling. You need to give yourself permission to experience and share your emotions and your passions. If we honestly listen and dialogue with ourselves, we will quickly discover and develop into who we are meant to be, and furthermore, we will be better equipped to facilitate open dialogue with others, and help them and even society grow into their more dynamic, true selves.
I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re all leaving here as new people. We have all changed, our relationships with others have changed, and we’ve all grown into and out of opportunities of all sorts. What’s important is that even if we change, we do not give up on others, or our world, or ourselves. This means you, families! You’ve had our backs the whole way. And we didn’t come this far to settle. Some paths may not work too well on our journeys in life; but we don’t abandon the dream. We come up with a new plan. And if we change or add some different dreams along the way, that’s wonderful, too.
Class of 2016, here is to us, our loved ones, friends, and mentors, and our bright, bright futures.