Afraid to Fly: A Reflection on Luther Commencement 2011 [Inside Giving May 2011]

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As a junior, I cannot know the dual excitement and sadness that seniors must feel as Commencement approaches. I have not completed my senior project, the pinnacle of my Luther career. I have not secured employment, nor have I made the decision to take a year off and figure out what I want to do. In short, I am not ready to sail into the world because my Luther journey has not yet been fully realized.

But come Sunday, May 22 at 10:00 a.m., Carlson Stadium will rage and thunder with anticipation for a new journey, and students will transform into explorers.

When I spoke last year about commencement, I included the thoughts of graduating seniors. Many have gone on to grad school or promising jobs or the Peace Corps. I heard of one English major recently who traveled west to find a teaching job, but ended up on a vineyard writing wine reviews. Over the past year, I've come to realize that it is precisely this which scares me: what if I fail to find my niche? After doing research and watching my senior friends prepare for the inevitable, I can't help but feel deathly afraid.

In a 2008 Harvard commencement speech, author J.K. Rowling had this to say about failure: "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default." She commented on how failure gives one inner security, how it is as much a part of education as any instruction in the classroom. Thus it occurs to me: I'm not ready to graduate because I have not yet embraced this certainty, this notion that failure will not only happen: it will help me succeed.

And so I imagine seniors this year gathering for the Baccalaureate with Pastor Vásquez and celebrating faith. I imagine them walking and receiving their diplomas. I imagine them with their families afterwards, eating together, finding comfort in quiet talk and a loving embrace. I imagine the culmination of work and effort over the past four years. And finally, I imagine what lies beyond.

Luther College has armed us with knowledge, the ability to soar into the unknown. But more importantly, it has prepared us for failure, and the ability to pick ourselves back up again.

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