Sunday, May 13, 2007

A beautiful day for a graduation

Today is graduation day at American University and we have been blessed with a beautiful one. I have been attending graduations for more than three decades, but I still find them special. They are a time to say ‘adieu’ to students and to briefly connect with parents. Now I am a dorm resident, there are graduating seniors with whom I have been friends and neighbors for four years. It has been my privilege to watch them change from uncertain, incompletely defined teen-agers attending our first “floor meetings” to (for the most part) poised, self-confident young adults. Our lives have been closelyintermingled, sometimes intensely but, for the most part, our paths will not cross again.

Graduation always brings to mind a passage from my colleague, collaborator and dear friend, the late Donella Meadows.. She titled it “life and death on a farm.”

“You don’t have to live on a farm very long before you come to terms with life and death, with all the Novembers when you kill last spring’s lambs and start next spring’s lambs. It is not that you become hard or unfeeling; rather you become accepting. You see life and death as a cycle or a continuum. You see that deaths are necessary for the balance of the farm, so that the ratios of rams and ewes and sheep and pastures will be right. You know that there will be beautiful meat to feed people, that not only the soil but all of nature turns death into new life, that in spite of all the death in the world, life persists. The whole process takes on a mysterious beauty and dignity. November, with its pervasive death isn’t the exciting high of April when the lambs are born and the daffodils bloom, but it’s the serene time of preparation for April; April couldn’t happen without it.”

The metaphor is not precise, of course. Students are moving to a next phase of life, not being taken to the slaughterhouse (unless ‘real life’ is that). But the process of renewal graduations presage is essential for the survival of educational institutions. Faculty members too, including dormgrandpop of course, must eventually leave the scene to make way for new energy and creativity. And these annual rituals do have elements of mystery, as well as beauty and dignity.

I must leave these reflections. It is time to don my academic robes for AU Commencement 2007.


Blogger Gillian said...

Hi John,

It is amazing how the academic year is still the metric by which people live their lives, even long after they have left formal education, and even without children in the household which require that sensitivity to "summer holidays" etc.

Even with spring as a time of rebirth, autumn (at least in the northern hemisphere) still feels like the start of activity after a break (even if you have only had one week off in the summer), and June feels like a time to relax. I can easily tap into the "graduation feeling" and it certainly is a joyful one. Have a lovely set of celebrations! (it is also a celebration that everyone, students, faculty and parents deserve - a nice confluence of intergenerational goals!)

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is a very good article.

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