Parent Newsletter May 2018
Commencement season is upon us and Luther seniors celebrate their graduation a week from today! It’s a time for joy and celebration, reflection and goodbyes, and looking ahead to the next stage of their adult lives. Our students will be bringing their well-honed gifts, talents, and strengths to a world that is complex, messy, and in sore need of the deep care and consideration Luther alumni offer.
I look forward to hearing about the amazing accomplishments the Class of 2018 will offer to their families, communities, organizations, houses of worship, etc. They are an amazing class who leave Luther with their marks left in many places including the classroom, stage, field, laboratory, and more.
For me, this time of year is one where I look forward to hearing the stories of the amazing commencement addresses that were delivered. Each spring C-Span carries a collection of addresses from around the country. Some of these are heralded and bring much attention. Over the years, commencement addresses find their way into the media, such as the New York Times, or into books published. NPR created a site to catalog some of the greatest addresses, including Ralph Waldo Emerson’s address to the Harvard Divinity College in 1838.
This past week, I’ve spent some time revisiting some addresses that I’ve enjoyed watching and listening to each year and some that were a first for me. I think these addresses offer our graduates, and our communities, some deep guidance for charting the path forward. Steve Jobs delivered the commencement address to the Stanford Class of 2005 and his cancer diagnosis that later took his life was in the forefront of his thoughts as was his work with Apple, the company he founded. Jobs lived for over six more years and this excerpt from his address compelling:
“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
For our students, I sincerely hope they can live the fulfilling lives they can create for themselves.
The late David Foster Wallace also greeted a graduating class in 2005. He challenged the Kenyon College graduates with a deeply thoughtful and challenging address. His address caught fire in terms of broader awareness and was later published as a book. He invoked his own deep sense of morality and challenged the graduates to consider what it means to worship those things are are effectively meaningless:
“Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it J.C. or
Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”
Leaders from the literary world, entrepreneurs, political leaders, and others take the stage to offer their perspectives to students. In his now well-known address, high school teacher, David McCullough Jr. told the high school graduates assembled that they were not special. This was one address I particularly appreciate to this day. He did not take long to let students know what was on his mind:
“You are not special. You are not exceptional.Contrary to what your U-9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.”
He continued, providing context for his exhortation:
“As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages.”
And closed with this sincere wish:
“And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.Because everyone is.”
I have worked in higher education for over 20 years and have been present for every commencement during those years. I don’t remember all of them and others I recall vividly. At Luther I particularly appreciate Mike Danforth’s address is 2015. The executive producer of Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me, Danforth (Luther Class of 1995) delivered a great address filled with wit and wisdom. I recommend watching address where he gave great advice on how to survive in the ocean with a pair of pants.
Luther’s Class of 2017 were welcomed by John A. Nunes’ energy and passion as he asked them about their accent. I will leave the deeper story for him to tell but his address was inspiring. (Nunes begins at about 45:24)
There are many others that I can commend to you, Barbara Bush’s address to the Wellesley College Class of 1990, Cory Booker’s address to the Pitzer College Class of 2010, or George Saunders’ address to the Syracuse University Class of 2008. Saunders’ address was also published and his call to be kind is perhaps the most eloquent and simple challenge of recent years, Sanders offered, “err in the direction of kindness.”
Speaking of kindness, it was Fred Rogers who taught multiple generations the important of kindness and gratitude in his classic PBS children’s show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. His address to the Dartmouth College Class of 2002 is one that brings tears to my eyes. In a gentle way as only Mr. Rogers could:
“I’d like to give you all an invisible gift. A gift of a silent minute to think about those who have helped you become who you are today. Some of them may be here right now. Some may be far away. Some, like my astronomy professor, may even be in Heaven. But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside yourself. And I feel that you deserve quiet time, on this special occasion, to devote some thought to them. So, let’s just take a minute, in honor of those that have cared about us all along the way. One silent minute.
Whomever you’ve been thinking about, imagine how grateful they must be, that during your silent times, you remember how important they are to you. It’s not the honors and the prizes, and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted. That we never have to fear the truth. That the bedrock of our lives, from which we make our choices, is very good stuff.”
My best to you as you look ahead to this coming weekend’s (or some weekend in the future) commencement activities where you will celebrate the significant and amazing accomplishments of your student and the next step in a life that offers deep promise. Your generosity and guidance are gifts to our graduates. They honor you as they walk across the stage.