Trinity students, families, and friends, savor this day. I love the pageantry of commencement. Even more, I love the smiles, laughter, and tears of joy as students and loved ones mingle with friends and professors. The so-called “social distance” of the past few years reminds us to savor these moments to the fullest.
Many of you have probably thought about what it means to reach the end of your college career. Paradoxically, we use the word “commencement” to mark this finish line. “Commencement” is a word that signals not an ending, but a beginning. This is a special graduation for me: it is my last as Trinity’s president, and it is also a beginning. For you and for me, “commencement” marks the starting point of a new chapter in our lives.
Our years together have had their own unique challenges. A novel and lingering global pandemic; a new unveiling of the urgent need for healing across partisan, racial, and ethnic divisions; historic winter freezes and snow storms in South Texas; and now a disruptive war in Europe. We’ve used and overused certain words and phrases like “unprecedented,” “pivot,” and “You’re on mute.”
When I reflect on our shared experiences and I think about our beginnings today, I recall a comment from Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges:
A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to [them] is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.
Today we all begin to write a new chapter in our lives. There are three key insights from the pandemic that can serve as “raw material” or “resources” for our “life writing.”
First, if there’s one thing that’s certain in this world, paradoxically, it’s uncertainty. Life is unpredictable. During the pandemic we made decisions, lived our lives, and found ways to forge ahead without sufficient data or full information. In reality, what we have learned is that the fragile predictability we used to call “certainty” was never as “certain” as we believed. This paradoxical revelation may feel like a shock to our conceptual system. But there is enormous liberation in understanding that we always live in the realm of calculated risks.Your liberal arts education at Trinity has prepared you to navigate whatever comes your way. Critical thinking, creative problem-solving, compassionate commitments, and collaborative connections have developed your capacity to move forward with confidence.
Draw upon your experiences as you explore complex situations. Apply the inspiration from faculty, staff, and alumni mentors as you confront challenges. Use your successes and your failures as the raw material for creating meaning and purpose in your lives.
Second, we always have a choice. Resilience in the wake of a pandemic and painful divisions emerges from choice. We choose how we see, interpret, speak about, and ultimately experience our reality. Our polarized world constantly invites us to be less than we are. Polarization invites us to shrink into roles of living as victims, to live the smallness of persecuting those we judge as the source of harm, or to self-righteously appoint ourselves as saviors rescuing all the victims we see around us. This interlocking triangle of roles is as familiar as the air we breathe every moment. We all play them. Yet they ultimately do nothing to change our systems or improve our world.
To be clear—there are and there have been real victims of violence and injustice. At the same time, we are the ones who choose to identify with a limiting mentality of victimhood or choose to live as creators, agents capable of making real and lasting changes. There are real victims who choose not to live in a victimhood mentality. Instead, they choose to forge their own freedom. Like Borges suggests, we can choose to work with our experiences like the clay an artist shapes to create new meaning, new beauty.
Third, and finally, always remember: you are enough, you’ve got this. We live in a world of comparison that does not serve us well. Comparisons, challenges, and changes often make us feel like we are “not enough.” I’m not tall enough, I’m not attractive enough, I’m not smart enough, I don’t have money enough, and most prevalent of all, I don’t have time enough. You can all think of countless ways you have experienced this kind of self-undermining comparison that generated stress during your days at Trinity.
Spoiler alert: these kinds of self-generated and self-limiting comparisons don’t disappear once you receive a diploma. The brusque changes caused by the pandemic made the situation worse because we all initially felt “deskilled,” like we weren’t enough to know how to get through the public health crisis. But, …here we are! We are enough. We’ve got this. Choose to take care of yourself, to love yourself, to honor your inherent worthiness. This is the first step toward empowering others as we strive together to create a better future.
Today we stand at a beginning. Your resiliency will serve you well as you embark on your next adventure. Our world thirsts for courageous individuals like you who can bring people together to solve the complex challenges before us.
With confidence in the face of uncertainty, with the active choice to live as a creator, and with the self-awareness that you are enough, that you’ve got this, your future will be bright. As you begin today, may you always experience full aliveness in the face of uncertainty. May you always experience true freedom exercised through wise choices. And may you always feel the deep peace of your inherent dignity and worthiness.
Be alive, be free, be at peace as you write a life of meaning and purpose. Class of 2022, we are proud of you. You are awesome. Congratulations!