Senior Recognition Convocation, May 2014

The Sending Place

David L. Tiede, Interim President
Luther College Senior Recognition Convocation
May 13, 2014

Here you are, seniors, gathered for your recognition convocation, poised on the threshold of life beyond Luther. You are our crown. Your achievements are our joy. Your lives of love and justice will bless the world into the future.

How many of you are completing in four years? Five is good too, and six! In case you didn’t notice, your interim president will get in and out in one! It took President Torgerson 14! But let’s not be competitive!

In one brief year, 10 and ½ months so far to be exact, I have been trying to figure out the Luther College story, the script of this place where we all play our parts. Where does this Senior Recognition Convocation fit in Luther’s choreography?

You must admit the grandiosity of events like this can remind you of Hogwarts. Read Sarah Rickertsen’s good piece, Hogwarts, A Home, in the Oneota Review. We are missing the sumptuous tables, glorious candelabra, and flying ghosts. But this CFL space is lofty enough. The transparent cloud descends and rises above us. Then this floor moves, voila, an orchestra! Our music is way better than Hogwarts.

As our new students were sent to residence halls last fall, it was “the sorting hat.” Gryffindor! Slytherin! Ylvie! Scan the Oneota valley from my office. Can you see our Quiddich team down there, beating Wartburg? Squint into the fog. Can you glimpse the Hogwarts Express huffing on the horizon, just above Highway 52?

Picture our faculty and staff! Who is Prof. Severus Snape in Luther disguise? We all know! Or Minerva McGonagall? What if I speak today as Albus Dumbledore? “Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”  Not bad! Or, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” Could do worse!

But Luther College does not send wizards into a bewitched world of muggles. Our Senior Recognition Convocation enacts the script of our motto: Soli Deo Gloria.

It is an expansive, exhilarating script! Nothing crabbed or controlling about it, whether or not you regard God as the ultimate author and audience of our drama. The phrase is writ in our educational DNA. “To God Alone be the Glory!”  Luther’s story is a vocation of Excellence, Delight, and Promise for the World.

The Excellence is inscribed in the program in your hands. If you get bored during the speeches, do like the faculty, and pore over the spectacular senior topics. Pretend you know what your student colleagues are talking about. One of my favorites is James Cochrane’s “Introduction to Elliptic Curve Cryptography.”  Even the title is cryptic to me! Or ponder Cydney Roelandt’s “Where Does the Kissing Go?: Maiden, Mother, Crone”? That sounds like yiddish lore on love and aging.

Last Friday’s Student Research Symposium was another staging of this Excellence. It was exactly the right context for welcoming President-Elect Paula Carlson, and she knew it! As we moved from place to place, the bar of Luther’s educational quality kept rising. I mused, “Old Martin Luther insisted being a cobbler to the glory of God did not mean religious decoration on shoddy shoes, but good shoes, made well. Right on!” Whatever your vocation in the world, do it well!

And the Delight is in you, with all your names inscribed in the program. When you leave campus, it is much quieter. The place is easier to run. But what’s the point? You, our students, are the heart and soul of Luther College.

Last winter, I interviewed every faculty member nominated to the Regents for promotion and tenure. I asked about their work. They all have great expertise. These were mini-seminars. What a privilege. And they all told me of their care for students, for you. They love being your teachers. Their stories were awesome.

Last month Cate Anderson thanked the Luther staff for joining in “a vast web of people at Luther who invest their time in us.” The staff listened, deeply moved. In the back, against the light, we couldn’t quite make it out, who was that huge man in work clothes, snuffling? Aha we know who that is. It’s our Hagrid, choking up!

At the Friday Student Research Symposium, David Pfoternauer observed, “Behind every project there’s a student. And behind each student, there’s a story!” Now think ahead! Imagine the still unwritten chapters  in the stories of all your lives.

It’s all here again in this Recognition. Excellence in our work. Delight in students. The Promise for the World will shine through your Commencement program.

Twelve days hence we will be marching in full academic regalia, hopefully outside. There will be music, and families with cameras everywhere, honorary degrees, and an address by a United States Senator. Dean Kraus will recite his practiced list of the names of all of you graduates, and I will be properly cast as Dumbledore: “By the commendation of the faculty and with the authorization of the Regents, I hereby confer your degree with its professional opportunities, personal privileges, and public responsibilities.” Then there will be: Applause! Shouting! Hooray!

You realize I am pretending to know what’s ahead. I have never attended a Luther commencement. Neither have many of you. This interim presidency is a thespian exercise, doing everything for my first time, and my last time, at the same time!

I have heard that commencement ends with all you grads walking around the track between two lines of faculty, cheering and sending you forth via a gauntlet of glory. What glory is this? Oh, it’s more than a magical Hogwarts moment!

This glory is Luther College, enacting the mystery of its script, connecting faith with learning, freedom with responsibility, and life’s work with service. This glory moment is wrought with scriptural stories of vocation, going way back to Genesis. And the Lord said to Abraham and Sarah: “I will bless you … so that you will be a blessing. … And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That’s glory!

This is Luther College, The Sending Place. This glory is your teachers hailing the excellence of your academic achievements, taking delight in you and your gifts, and sending you, with our blessing, to be Luther’s promise to the world.

We give no guarantees of ease. Joys and sorrows, defeats and victories lie ahead.  But we are hopeful, deeply invested in the rich, complex chapters of your stories. Please return to tell us how your one wild and precious life is going!

And may God go with you, giving you courage and wisdom on ventures of which you cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Soli Deo Gloria!