Tonight I am speaking at the graduation ceremony for Bedford College. Graduation speeches have been a hot button topic recently, after the Ravenswood incident, mine promises to be suitably tame in comparison. Nonetheless, I thought I'd share it here. Hope you can find some encouragement, whether you are a graduating from an educational endeavour, or simply from 2015, to 2016.
Two years ago I stood on this stage giving the graduation speech to the 2013 cohort, all the while nervously tapping my left pocket. On my way to the ceremony I had stopped by a certain jewelry shop to collect an engagement ring I had every intention to put to good use. The only problem was I had to keep it safely on my person for the next several hours. We have a place to leave our bags, just off stage here, but that felt like way to big a risk… so there I was, sitting on stage, talking on stage, and every 90seconds or so I would tap my pocket to ensure that the ring box had not fallen. It was a nerve-racking time.
A year to the day (minus two), my wife had to get that ring cut off. Thankfully the marriage is still on; otherwise this speech would be taking a very different tone. My wife’s finger had swollen over night and in a mild panic, at about 4am, she had tried to liberate the wedding band and in the process only exacerbated the swelling – many attempts were made, we even went to her mother’s house, never a bad option in a crisis, but even that strong mother hen could not make the ring budge. Eventually after a trip to the hospital, and the noble yet futile efforts of a nurse, a doctor, and a surgeon the decision was made to cut off the rings.
Two days, one object, a whole mix of emotions, and several lessons learnt. And so, here I am, year three… wondering just what new chaos that ring may bear on us tomorrow. Where were you last December? Two Decembers ago? Physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally…
From my conversations with so many of you, the majority opinion is that this year has gone quickly… however, I’m sure for many of you, life before Bedford seems almost other worldly. The ‘you’ before Bedford looks somewhat different in reflection – for one thing childcare students are probably way more familiar with the feeling of a blue polo shirts than any other time on their lives. A year has passed, lessons have been learnt (hopefully) and unlearnt, relationships formed and ended, questions raised, answers questioned, perhaps the lens through which you view the world has undergone something of an adjustment. Whatever changes have occurred, I’ll bet this gown, that you have all experienced some level of change. But this won’t be the end… the only guarantee is that change will be perpetual, change endures… even a ring symbolically representing the unchanging nature of a loving commitment isn’t safe (hopefully the loving commitment still is).
Where were you last year? Where might you be in a year or two?
To some extent you may already know (or at least have an odds on guess of where you might be) – perhaps if you’re following this path into university you’ll know that you’ll have finished year one, and will be eagerly awaiting (or uneagerly dreading) results, perhaps if you’re going into the workplace you have visions of what that’ll look like – this is the future to which the present is trending towards, a future based on predictable, and learned analysis – this, we (to borrow a phrase from John Caputo) shall call the future present, and it is not what I am interested in when I ask, where might you be. What I am getting at, what I am trying to provoke interest in, is the where that you cannot name, the where that we cannot see – the unforeseeable future, the future of surprises and twist endings – the future M. Night Shyamalan would be likely to script, though this of course isn’t scripted.
Of course this makes it a little bit of a trick question and me the cheshire cat pointing both directions at once. Asking where might you be (when I’ve disqualified any possibility of answer) is hopefully meaner than any test you’ve have to do, but the question (like the unforeseeable future) remains to remind you to leave room, to create space for this future, for the future outside of and beyond the best laid plans of mice and men (and even women, who are in my experience superior planners). And so I implore you… Remain open to the unforeseeable and unplanned, to the surprise and the twist, to the … what may come, or come what may (as two famed lovers once sang) – because this is where the true growing happens, this is where we a drawn out, lured beyond the comfortable and the contained, this is where we encounter challenge, change, transformation – this is where moments happen.
Life can’t all be moments, it would be exhausting, the trains would never run on time (they have a hard enough time already), and what’s worse, we’d never know we had one (to quote another lover who faced a tragic end). Nonetheless my prayer and hope for you all is that you’ll have moments! A life that occasionally deviates from the well worn path and analytical trends, a life that is from time to time, interrupted by the unforeseen, by moments of wonder. And when they come, have courage – there may be some fear mixed in with the surprise, but grab moments, embrace moments, be consumed and changed by moments, pursue them with loving abandon, and you may just find something beautiful. And when you look back you’ll be surprised at where you were.