Commencement; Every Day is a Test: Today is Pop-quiz!, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

Start Date

  June marks the end of school, beginning of summer, and of course, time for Commencement speakers.  Garry Trudeau, one of my favorite wisdom cartoonists with his Doonesbury comic strip, and whom I suspect of being a Unitarian Universalist, spoke at one and said: �Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.�

            Laura Pederson, award winning author, whose most recent book is Buffalo Gal, is a UU and that�s perhaps why she encourages book clubs to read her book and even invite her for a discussion, in one of the book club newsletters she included:

UU Haiku
Raised as a UU.
How to explain to school friends?
Thomas Jefferson.

UU funeral.
deceased in best suit of clothes
with no place to go

Coffee is UU
Sacrament, so please join us.
Volunteers needed.

Not known for singing
Too busy checking if we
agree with the words.

Five Presidents and
over one hundred thousand
liberal arts majors.

No church in summer
Vacations sabbaticals,
Because God trusts us.

            These commencement speeches, of course, try to impart wisdom, though my guess is that most graduates listening are barely listening and just waiting to get out of there and party!  Education, of course, doesn�t stop with graduation.

            �According to a news report, a certain private school in Washington was recently faced with a unique problem. A number of 12-year-old girls were beginning to use lipstick and would put it on in the bathroom. 

That was fine, but after they put on their lipstick, they would press their lips to the mirror leaving dozens of little lip prints. Every night the maintenance man would remove them, and the next day the girls would put them back.

            Finally, the principal decided that something had to be done. She called all the girls to the bathroom and met them there with the maintenance man. She explained that all these lip prints were causing a major problem for the custodian who had to clean the mirrors every night (you can just imagine the yawns from the little princesses). To demonstrate how difficult it had been to clean the mirrors, she asked the maintenance man to show the girls how much effort was required. He took out a long-handled squeegee, dipped it in the toilet, and cleaned the mirror with it. Since then, there have been no lip prints on the mirror.

            There are teachers ... and then there are educators?

            �Graduation is only a concept,� says Arie Pencovici, an Israeli Arab School Principal and Jewish Social Worker, �In real life every day you graduate.  Graduation is a process that goes on  until the last day of your life.  If you can grasp that, you'll make a difference�

            At the end of this school year for the class of 2010, all of us have completed the same year though what we did during this past year and what our results were are quite different. But every day is test and today is a pop quiz that the universe springs on us, and who knows whether there are really any right answers; most of UUs believe they�re all relative!

I never thought I would hear wisdom from our former President, George W. Bush, but at a  commencement speech he gave during one of his terms: "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the 'C' students, I say you too may one day be President of the United States."

            I was not a straight A student in high school, though I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. It made me wonder how bad the grades of the other 90% must have been. In college, I came close to flunking out my first semester with 2 F�s! I did better each semester, but always struggled with tests, it seems, even in courses I thought I was doing well in and really liked!  Indeed, one of the concerns I had about going to seminary in mid-life, was whether I could handle the academics. As it turns out, I excelled in seminary, perhaps because I was deeply and even spiritually motivated. I ended up graduating cum laude, with honors! Perhaps it was also because I was a Unitarian Universalist going to a liberal protestant seminary, I was able to negotiate out of some classes and was able to interpret for myself some others, or that I had been reading a lot since college and the result was that I had a wider understanding of religion, psychology, and culture than some of my colleagues in seminary, especially the younger ones.

             I was in my mid thirties when I started seminary, married with three kids, not the ideal time, and I wasn�t near a UU seminary.  Indeed, I had only discovered UUism about two yeas before, though I had gone to college to become a minister for the UCC.

            But I felt �called�, as they say in ministry, though it may just be another name for the passion, motivation, the fore that is the incentive for all of us to do the work we do, if we are fortunate enough that way. Maybe fortunate or luck has little to do with it; maybe we make our own so-called luck when we answer our inner call and decide to take a risk to do what we really want to do. You must find out what you really want and who you really are.

The Tao Te Ching says:
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself,
And don't compare or compete,
Everybody will respect you.

            And the wise Dr. who so influenced many of us growing up, Dr. Seuss, said "Be who you are, and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."

            Now I would just remind us to be careful when �we say how we feel,�: to realize how our words can wound and hurt if we don�t take other�s feelings into consideration as well. Say how you feel diplomatically, which can be just as truthful as harsh or condemning words. Indeed, there�s an old Jewish saying that I use a lot about finding out who we are-�If three people tell you you�re drunk, lie down.�

            That is, to balance that wonderful individuality with community; get control of your ego as opposed to your individuality. They may be two separate things. Have enough ego to be self confident, but not too much so as to become conceited or even abusive with your power. Truly listen to people.

            Find out who you are and what you want out of life, then figure out what life wants out of you! As someone has said, �We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.� One of the most inspiring and powerful books I have read is Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the horror of concentration camp of W.W.II while most of his family were killed. Out of that horrific experience came this book which has remained a popular seller for obvious reason. It is now published by our own Beacon Press.

            �It did not really matter what we expected from life,� Frankl says, �but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual... Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

            Choose your attitude, my friends, sometimes easier than it sounds, but oh so crucial to our lives. Think of the people around you, and how differently each of us seems to choose our attitude about whatever it is that is happening in life or to us, including terminal illness.  Think of Randy Pausch and his best selling book, The Last Lecture, among so many other people who have chosen their attitude and inspired others.  �We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.�   Randy Pausch

            All of these things depends on us finding our true self and our connection to community, the world, and the sacred,  however we describe that mystery.  Life is a search, with discoveries along the way. Life is a journey not a destination.

            The great comic sage, Mark Twain, is  supposed to have said: �Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away 

from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.�

            Unitarian, Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most quoted people in so many commencement speeches, said, �What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us...Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path, and leave a trail."

            And don�t forget relationships-friends, family, church, perhaps, work colleagues, all very important to a good life, and relationships take work, compromise, and love. If we live life with love and love others, participate in a community of love, we will have that love returned ten-fold, and that will give us the strength, faith, and hope to weather even the worst storm.

            Find your religion or religious relationship; develop a spiritual life that will give you inspiration and hope. Here too may be search, but make the effort with an open heart as well as an open mind. Find and develop a spiritual community.

            �Sooner or later,� said Susan B. Anthony, �we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved.  The real milestones are less prepossessing.  They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave.  Our lives are measured by these.�

            Learn to relax, to play, to keep that spirit of the child within you, because there is a wisdom from our childhoods that we can continue learning and growing from. Remember your beloved relatives of your childhood and don�t forget them. They are the ancestors which the ancients always revered and many of us still do today. Never forget where you came from and who helped you along the way. Don�t be afraid to ask for directions or just help when you need it.

And lastly I share: The Paradoxical Commandments, by Dr. Kent M. Keith:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
� Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

            Let us learn to be all that we are capable of being, and realizing our connection to one another and to the interdependent web of all existence. Life is too short to not appreciate every day and every person. Life is too short not to love profoundly and to appreciate life itself. Oh let us love deeply and live as if heaven were within us, making a difference in the world for us having lived here. What shall we leave behind when we go?  So live life and love life, and life will love you back.  Do something to change the world for the better. Get involved with life. Love one another as well as yourself.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets  the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and  one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. �Vaya con Dios� is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is �Go with God,� So I adapted it to say �Vaya Con Su Dios,� �Go with your idea or interpretation of God.�

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios

Event type
Worship Service