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June 29, 2008: “Commencement 2008: We’re All Graduating From Something”

The great Psychiatrist Carl Jung had words carved over his door in Latin that said something like, Called or not, the Gods will be present but humorist G.K. Chesterton warns us: Never invoke the gods unless you really want them to appear. It annoys them very much.

    Commencement means beginning, but it always seems to come at the end, when we graduate and enter what is laughably referred to by some as the REAL WORLD. It seems like it should be called Conclusion rather than commencement, because it signifies an ending- an ending of a time, of an age, of schooling, training, etc.
     The traditional  commencement music called reasonably enough Pomp and Circumstance by Edward Elgar has become a classic, almost as easy to recognize as Happy Birthday. I know the thinking is that after one graduates, then one truly begins or commences, but in these days when even Kindergartens have commencements, it seems like it is more just going from one stage to another, perhaps even literally and figuratively. We graduate when we have fulfilled the requirements, and eventually it will dump us out in to the so called REAL WORLD  where we will get a job, join the service, raise children, or what have you. But we are rarely ready for what happens to us after we graduate. We should know all there is to know, right?

. In one of my favorite the comic strips dealing with the family is, “For Better or for Worse.” It’s about a mother and dad and two kids, and it’s realistic. In one episode, the first three segments show the mother tossing and turning in her bed, worrying about her ten-year-old son, Michael. She says, “Are we too tough on Michael? Are we not tough enough? Do we give in too often? Too seldom? Do we listen? Do we understand? Maybe I nag too much. Am I a good parent? Where are the answers? How does one know what to do?” In the last box we see Michael lying awake in his bed saying, “Trouble with grown-ups is they think they know everything.”

    While many of us may act like we know everything, none of us do, of course. -The great great mind of the 20th century, who didn't do well in school, by the way, Albert Einstein, once said: "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge in the field of truth and knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods."

    And speaking of laughter, keep laughter in your life as much as love. Psychologist Joseph Michelli, uses humor to dispel the fears of patients with cancer or severe depression. Kids laugh 400 times a day. Adults laugh 16 times a day. We lose 384 laughs a day in a process I call adulteration.
    Seneca said: It is a far better thing for a person to laugh at life than to lament over it. Irish proverb-A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures.

    A  physician told this story about her then 4 yr. old daughter. On the way to preschool, the doctor had left her stethoscope on the car seat, and her little girl picked it up and began playing with it. 'Be still, my heart,' thought my friend, 'my daughter wants to follow in my footsteps!'  Then the child spoke into the instrument: "Welcome to McDonald's. May I take your order?"


1 – Indecision is the key to flexibility.
2 – You cannot tell which way the train went by looking at the track.
3 – The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.
4 – Someone who thinks logically is a nice contrast to the real world.
5 – Things are more like they are today than they ever have been before.

  1. – Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate.
    7 – I have seen the truth and it makes no sense.
  2. – By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.
  3. – It’s lonely at the top, but you eat better.
    10.- The trouble with life is, you’re halfway through it before you realize it’s a “do it yourself” thing.

Senility Prayer- God, grant me the Senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Commencement addresses are also supposed to impart wisdom learned from many years of experience. The ancient book of Ecclesiastes sheds its wisdom on life and death and I read it at almost every memorial service- To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven, and so on, but this passage ends with a question that’s not usually read, perhaps because we don’t want it asked of us: What gain has the worker from his or her toil? It’s almost like a graduation question, isn’t it? Yea, the Bible is full of wisdom and it answers that question simply, and remember the Bible says- I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to us that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their work. What a great teaching! Why do you suppose we don’t hear this passage quoted more often? I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to us that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their work.

    Now everything in moderation, of course, but at the heart of this teaching, one that I believe is firm doctrine, is that happiness, enjoyment  and pleasure are recommended!

The German mystic, -Meister Eckhart writes: WORK The kind of work we do /does not make us holy/ but we can make it holy. However “sacred”/a calling may be,/as a calling/ it has no power to sanctify; but rather as we are and have/the divine being within,/we bless each task we do…be it eating, or sleeping,/or watching, or any other. Whatever they do,/those who have not/much of God’s nature,/they work in vain.

    Some of us are lucky and seem to know exactly what we want to do for the rest of our lives, and then do it. Some seem to fall into their jobs, others, never find their satisfaction or right livelihood. And there is a religious or spiritual or meaningful dimension to work as well, if we are to be truly satisfied and enjoy our work.

    Doug Larson, a religious cartoonist has a minister saying: The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment.

    There are all kinds of books and articles about finding the job you love,  or do what you love and the money will follow, and many others. Their common denominator is that we must all live a self-examined life to find out what it is that we truly want or what we can do or would like to learn. We must find out who we are and what we really want out of life, and then of course, find out what life wants out of us!

    I researched a number of recent commencement speeches by well known people for this sermon; when you think of how many are given each year if you include both high school and college the number is mind boggling; if you then multiply that by the clich' required it's even more so!  Then you ask how many are remembered and the number drops dramatically! Stanford University Commencement 2005 given by a college dropout, who was fired  son of an unwed mother, fired from his first jib when he was 30, but perhaps one of the most influential people of the 20th and 21st century Steve Jobs of Apple Computers.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world’s first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple… Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle. Very important to live, finding what you love is even more important!

    JK Rowlings at Harvard, 2008-She tells the story of a woman who came from poor parents who wanted her to get a practical education so she wouldn't be poor, but she wanted to be a writer. she studied the classics which everyone knows is where the big bucks are! Her marriage went bust, she was a single mom, and to support herself worked for She worked for Amnesty International and saw firsthand the brutality of the world and urged these privileged Harvard graduated to make difference in the world. Her marriage, her very life seemed a failure, her writing career surely seemed one, yet, as they say, look at her now! She never gave up on herself, her imagination, her dreams.
            I have come up with two answers....(to talk about) On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called real life, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination....

    One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
    But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

    If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

    I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life.  Yes, friends are another crucial part of life.

    Another drop out, another major influential co(where he dropped out) in 2007: Ive been waiting more than 30 years to say this: Dad, I always told you Id come back and get my degree... I want to thank Harvard for this honor. I'll be changing my job next year and it will be nice to finally have a college degree on my resume

    I applaud the graduates for taking a much more direct route to your degrees. For my part, I'm just happy that the Crimson called me Harvard's most successful dropout. I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class I did the best of everyone who failed.
    I am optimistic that we can do this, but I talk to skeptics who claim there is no hope. They say: Inequity has been with us since the beginning, and will be with us till the end - because people just don't care.

I completely disagree. I believe we have more caring than we know what to do with.

When you consider what those of us here in this Yard have been given – in talent, privilege, and opportunity – there is almost no limit to what the world has a right to expect from us.

In line with the promise of this age, I want to exhort each of the graduates here to take on an issue – a complex problem, a deep inequity, and become a specialist on it. If you make it the focus of your career, that would be phenomenal. But you don’t have to do that to make an impact. For a few hours every week, you can use the growing power of the Internet to get informed, find others with the same interests, see the barriers, and find ways to cut through them. You graduates are coming of age in an amazing time. As you leave Harvard, you have technology that members of my class never had. You have awareness of global inequity, which we did not have. And with that awareness, you likely also have an informed conscience that will torment you if you abandon these people whose lives you could change with modest effort.

And I hope you will come back here to Harvard 30 years from now and reflect on what you have done with your talent and your energy. I hope you will judge yourselves not on your professional accomplishments alone, but also on how well you have addressed the world’s deepest inequities on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.

Kofi Ananan MIT 1997
Walking along the Charles River one day, in the middle of my first term, I reflected on my predicament. How could I survive, let alone thrive, in this group of over-achievers? And the answer came to me most emphatically: NOT by playing it according to their rules. ‘Follow your own inner compass,’ I said to myself, ‘listen to your own drummer.'(Notice he paraphrases Thoreau here!) To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are, what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.
But we have also managed to build up the international edifice of reason. By deliberate institutional means, we have better positioned humankind to cope with pressing global problems…. I call upon you to work tirelessly to anchor the United States firmly to the course of internationalism, to its historic mission as an agent of progressive change and to a world order that reflects your country’s commitment to the rule of law, equal opportunity, and the irreducible rights of all individuals. We are always graduating, always beginning, always changing, always evolving, yea, always aging, and if we are intentional about it, always discovering who we are in relation to the world and our relationships.

How then shall we live? Perhaps we need to beat our theological hyphens into religious ploughshares, teach peace and justice, be full of love, be open to growth and change, be intentional about living our religion, loving each other in theological freedom. Let us learn to balance our hearts and our minds, and to learn from one another, help one another, love one another.

The words of a song by Bob Dylan, “Forever Young,” which I will use as a closing. not as a wish that we never grow up, but that we never lose our capacity for the dreams, hopes and idealism of of our youth:

May God bless and keep you always/ May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others/ And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars/And climb on every rung
And may you stay forever young./May you grow up to be righteous
May you grow up to be true/May you always seek the truth
And see the light surrounding you./May you always be courageous
Stand upright and be strong/And may you stay forever young.
May your hands always be busy/May your feet always be swift
May you have a firm foundation/When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful/May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young.

I was asked to give the closing prayer for the Graduation ceremonies for Project Quest, a job-training program for the city of San Antonio that the Community Organizing group to which our church belonged, Metro Alliance helped coordinate. These were health care jobs that paid living wages-At least $10.00 an hour or more and were success stories of people getting off welfare and becoming independent! These were predominantly Hispanic and African Americans:

    Graduation Prayer

Eternal spirit, infinite source of life, love, joy and peace: We call on you to bless this assembly, the graduates as well as others gathered here on this proud occasion; we implore you to grant us love of humanity, wisdom, and courage, in peace as well as in war.
May those of all faiths join together under one holy umbrella, with your many names, but one spirit which has run through all time and places, and your universal teachings of love, of treating others as we would be treated, feeding the poor and housing the homeless, of justice for all.
May the Spirit of love and life that passes all understanding be with us now and forever. May we be inspired to create a better world.

Amen, 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 within you) Blessed Be, and let me add 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.