I went to my nephew’s college graduation and the adult speaker was, well, uninspiring. I didn’t entirely disagree with his advice about taking small steps. But he didn’t place his message into a wider context of working toward anything larger. It got me thinking: What would I say? So my speech to the graduates follows. I am addressing these remarks to those graduating from college or high school, but when we adults attend such events, we, too, are invited to renew our belief in the possible and take up the charge of emerging new into the world. So these words are for us oldsters, too. This piece is dedicated to my nephew Ian Smith.
To the Graduates
What to say to help you claim the now into which you emerge? What will inspire you to shape the now to your visions? I pause because the now we see in the news – the news that streams from our devices and lights up all 24 hours of the day – seems so unshapable, so broken.
But there is news – vital but unseen – to share with you. An ancient sensibility out of the Celtic tradition invites us to see the world with different eyes. With these eyes, we perceive the mountain behind the mountain. This second mountain is immaterial but essential. It gives the mountain of rock its soul. When you look deeply into the mountain and sense that soul, your spine tingles with the power emanating from beyond.
The daily news barrage is like a physical mountain blocking our view into the greater power of this day.
Because something amazing happened this morning. The sun rose – even if behind clouds. A lip of light pressed itself to the horizon: an illuminating kiss to wake the day. The sun spread and moved its rays over the earth touching tree leaves reaching into the sky. The green canopy drank the light into itself, making its morning breakfast of the sugars necessary for all cellular processes. Each tree sent nutrients not only into its own trunk and roots, but also through the soil, to be shared with its neighbors. The forest, even in its silence, is a place of great collaboration.
And as a leftover from this morning feeding, the trees released the oxygen that entered your sleeping lungs. This breath helped fire the more than 37 trillion cells within you that shifted as you turned to rise and dress, perhaps – depending on how late you slept after last night’s celebrations – to dash to this graduation ceremony.
It is a miracle you have all made it to this moment. It is a miracle we all have made it to this moment.
This moment made possible by the sun and the trees, the turning of earth, trillions of cells working together, teachers who enlightened and tested you, friends who cheered you in success and carried you in disappointment, the parents and the grandparents, your whole family, and the long line of ancestors streaming behind you. An enormous net held you through your education – and will last beyond it. The net will change, but it is resilient. Broken strands – the people who leave your life – create opening for new supports to enter. The net is constantly renewed.
So the news behind the news is that each day is a miracle. Yes, you are miracle.
Remind yourself about your miraclehood as you go through your life. You might pause – even if only for 30 seconds – each day as you awake to let yourself remember and sense the miracle of the day, of your breath, of yourself.
Let this morning infusion be the soil out of which your visions grow. Dare to imagine a world aligned with the highest values: Justice, Beauty, Love. Dare to reach for your heart’s desires. Dare to seek change so great and beneficial to the planet that it may not even come in your lifetime.
And when you go out into the world, do what you can to realize the vision. The vision will be big, but the steps toward it on any given day may be small – and sometimes even backwards. Progress is rarely a straight line. And an expansive vision exists beyond the boundary of a day, a week, or even a decade. You build the vision over time.
As you reach toward the vision, remember that each person you meet is a miracle. This may be easier with the ones you love, but you must also extend this recognition to those who challenge or disagree with you, those who seem different. They may not see you as a miracle – they may not see themselves as a miracle – but we are all in this boat of miracles together. Listen. Learn. Hold on to the possibility of connection.
Even as you recognize the connection to those who challenge you, don’t get caught in their visions – or lack of vision. Rather seek out those whose vision is similar or overlapping to yours. These will be your collaborators. These collaborators could be your co-workers, but also lovers, friends, and others: someone you meet in the subway or the supermarket; a wisdom figure that visits you faithfully in dreams. Perhaps you’ll even see how a tree or a mountain collaborates with you. The natural world, after all, has been 4.5 billion years in the making and knows a thing or two about surviving and thriving.
You and your collaborators have great work to do: to bring the miracle visions into this broken world. So you will have to go beyond the usual suspects, to be curious beyond your field of study, to work outside your comfort zone. Maybe bring together bedfellows as strange as:
- Theater and Community Planning … because a wonderful town needs both the basics like street lights and the social elements like singing that create community.
- Design and Religion … to create meaningful experiences of the numinous for technology-driven times.
- Business and Meditation … because the mind needs direction to meet both the mystical and the practical possibilities of life.
- Neuroscience and Divination … to open our eyes to the patterns underlying the functioning of our world.
- Criminal Justice and Culinary Arts … because food, so necessary to feel secure, binds us to one another when we eat together.
Yes, these are weird combinations. Yes, I am suggesting that what seems weird now may be the way through these times we live in. You can learn from tradition, the generations past, we oldsters who are giving you graduation advice, but we know the world as it has been. You are emerging into the world as it will be. Perhaps the world is not so much broken as broken open and waiting for you to take the fragments remaining to create something even better out of the rearranged part – something we of older generations wouldn’t even have imagined.
This graduation is your threshold. The door is open to your future. As you stand in the in-between place today, I invite you to put on a mantle of miracle. Feel its power and possibility settle upon you. Keep this garment close to your skin for protection, for inspiration. Wear it long after you taken off today’s graduation robes. Know that it can not be taken away from you. Your mantle is within you, renewed with each breath, fired by each cell. Your mantle of miracle is you.