First, I would like to thank the graduates for asking me to speak here today. I am genuinely honored to be here with you celebrating the work and the accomplishments that you have made. As an alum of the Individualized Studies program I fully understand the time and effort that was required of you to complete your studies and, why developing and completing a personalized course of study, such as you have done here, is no easy task.
For many of us that come to Goddard as students – especially in this program – our interests and visions tend to be as wide as they are deep. In part, I think this is so because we really do see the complexity and importance of the bigger picture and we each want to understand where we fit into that picture as much as possible. Of course, this can make it awfully difficult to get us to focus in on a particular thread; on that particular idea or subject matter that we must work toward mastering and will remain to be incredibly personal to each one of us. With the helpful insight and incredible patience of our faculty, we all find our way through this intensely personal process and rigorous course of study that is as rewarding and exciting as it is exhausting.
Traveling down an individual path like you have done here; down a road that only you could walk, is one of the most difficult things you will ever do. Certainly, long before you ever decided to come to Goddard as student you were all faced with making the choice of taking your own paths time and time again. In doing so, you might have been told that you were going the wrong way; that there was a better way; or a more profound way. But, no matter which path any of you took then and no matter what course of study you pursued here, the truth was and remains to be that you were all simply going a way of your own. In the end, every path that we take is a step toward self-realization, but not everyone chooses to follow that path as determined and as consciously as you all have.
Now, I can say this about you because I had the opportunity yesterday to learn more specifically about the particular work that each of you did during your time here. As I listened to your presentations, I heard pieces of your personal stories and how those pieces intersected with your course of study. What I heard were stories of intense existential questioning. Stories that began by asking the questions: Who am I? And, where do I fit into this world that seems to have no place for me? Or at least a place where I do not have to stuff myself inside a box for the sake of others? I heard other stories of personal trauma and how you transformed the pain you experienced into something more than just suffering. You transformed suffering into the pursuit of wisdom and understanding. But most of all, I heard that you are all well on your way to understanding the complexity and importance of your own authentic being.
These were not just abstract presentations. These were stories of great courage and incredible insight and they expressed far more than the knowledge you have gained through your studies. They expressed quite deeply, and with a certain grace, something about what makes you who you are and who you are becoming despite the obstacles that might have been your way. Moreover, these presentations were intimate offerings of yourself to those of us that would hear them. I think it is important that we all acknowledge this intimate sharing of yourself because this kind of sharing is often not easy and one never knows how well they will be received. But, it is just this kind of sharing and giving of yourself that helps us all to grow; to learn more about ourselves and the world in which we all live. So thank you for sharing yourself with us.
And now that you have finished this part of your journey it is natural to wonder – what’s next? I know that commencement addresses are often filled with words of motivation that are meant to inspire you to go out and do something with the knowledge that you have gained… or to inspire you to strive further and to succeed in the world, but that means something quite different to each of us. I would rather not speak to you so much about what you will “do” or “accomplish”, although I cannot entirely separate that from what I am about to say. It is merely a matter of emphasis. In closing, I simply want to highlight the importance of “being”- which is something that is common to all of us.
I am evermore pressed upon the fact that “being” is just as important as “doing” in working toward overcoming the greatest obstacles that we all face – some of which you all touched upon yesterday…obstacles such as oppression, poverty, and the suffering that all forms of life experience. But, in the whirlwind of performing everyday tasks and pursuing whatever goals we hope to achieve, it is extraordinarily easy to lose sight of ourselves in the process…even when we have fought so hard to find ourselves the day before. When we forget what we are all capable of, from the best to the worst, we lose sight of not only ourselves but it becomes increasingly more difficult to see others and the world we live in with any sort of clarity; to discern where we end and others begin. In that world, it becomes all too easy to find both heroes and villains who are more often than not a mirror for our own soul.
Through my own studies here I came to see that change – real and lasting change – hinges upon every one of us… upon every individual that is willing to take the time to understand themselves… to locate themselves within their experience as best they can… to include themselves in their equations about others and the world we all live in… to be who they are and maintain a state of self-reflective consciousness as much as humanly possible. This is a process of both being and doing. I believe this is the same process you were engaged in while you were here.
More than anything you will ever do or any goal that you will achieve being who you are is the greatest gift you can offer to the world. Never stop being you, because your being here makes this world a little brighter and the future a little more hopeful for all of us.