May 11, 2009
Endings and Beginnings
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
Here's a great trivia question: Can you name the only college to produce the number one draft pick in both the NFL and the NBA in the same year? Hint: The year was 2005. Answer: The University of Utah. I bet you didn't guess that. For your information, the players were Alex Smith (NFL) and Andrew Bogut (NBA).
The University of Utah is on my mind because our twin daughters, Mary and Lindsey, graduated from there this past week. My wife and I of course went out to Salt Lake City to celebrate with both of them and to cheer them on as they move to the next stage of their lives. Many of you will be honoring high school and college graduates in the next month as well, and so it seems like a good time to reflect on this rite of passage.
The graduation ceremony that we went to was called a commencement, as it is at all colleges and universities. I love the fact that the ending of a stage of one's college education is referred to as a beginning. It brings to mind a line from the song, "Closing Time," by Semisonic: "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end." When a person gets married, begins a new job, has a child, moves, or retires they are both ending and beginning a new stage of life. As excited as our daughters are to be moving on, there were many tears of sadness as they said good-bye to their professors and close friends. We are all wise to honor the grief involved in even the most positive new beginnings, lest we compromise our moving fully into the new stage of our life.
At one point during our daughters' commencement, the President of the University asked the students to stand and applaud their professors. They did so with great enthusiasm. Shortly after that, the President asked the students to stand again This time he asked the students to turn and face their family and friends in the stands and thank them for all they had done to help them reach their important milestone. As I looked around at all the faces--all colors and all ages--I don't think I saw a dry eye in the place. It was clear that all of us--students, friends and family--had worked hard to make this day possible. This is another piece of wisdom for us to remember: our successes are never ours alone; none of us succeed without the support and cheers of many others.
The fact that learning is a life-long endeavor was made clear by the commencement speaker, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author David McCullough (Truman, John Adams). It was a reminder that so much of the learning in our lives happens outside of formal education, i.e. our families and our relationships. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the rest of Mr. McCullough's commencement address:
"Had the American dream been handed to us all in tidy order, all done up with everything set to operate perfectly in perpetuity, we would hardly be the people we are."
"So read more history, you who are about to commence to the next part of the journey. Read all you can in all fields. Never stop reading and especially books that have stood the test of time."
"Because there have been public libraries everywhere for so long, free to all, does not mean they will therefore go on without our appreciation and support. There are, it may surprise you to know, more public libraries in America than there are McDonalds. But their infinite value should never be underestimated just because they are so familiar."
"And make it your practice to ask people about themselves and what they've learned from experience. Don't ever forget that there isn't a man or woman, no matter their appearance or station in life, who doesn't know something, or how to do something, that you don't."
"Try not to make the mistake of equating ease or possessions with happiness. Find that in your work if possible. Bear in mind that hard work and joy are not mutually exclusive."
Congratulations to all the graduates out there, and to all the families and friends who helped make it possible for them to reach the finish, I mean, starting line.