I share this with permission of the author.
Commencement Speech at Eastern University by Jocelyn Paul
May 9, 2015
Today is a day of celebration and commemoration. And it is tempting to take a cue from hundreds of commencement speakers by invoking the metaphor of the mountain. I could congratulate you on persevering through “the climb” and reaching “the summit” of your education, and proclaim that you can climb every mountain which awaits. Perhaps Dr. Seuss’s final lines of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” ring true: “You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! Your mountain is waiting. So... get on your way!”
But the metaphor of the mountain is not fitting because Eastern taught us that life is not a series of mountains to climb, achievements to accomplish, or obstacles to conquer. The purpose of our education was not to fill us with knowledge, to equip us with strategies for success, or even to teach us how to think. We did not arrive here as mere intellects to be rewired, but as persons, made in the image of the God who is love. And Eastern formed us accordingly, as whole persons, by giving us an education of love.
We have not climbed a mountain; we have learned how to tend a garden. To tend a garden you must take care of it, and to take care of something, you must love it. A garden requires patience; your hands get dirty, your knees get sore, and you must return again and again to the same tasks: the planting, the watering, the weeding, the harvesting. Remember that the resurrected Christ was mistaken for a gardener, not a conqueror, and certainly not a mountain climber.
And so today, our hearts are full of gratitude. It is a gratitude for the professors who taught us how to wrestle with and seek the answers to questions; for the friends and family who spoke hope into our lives when we despaired; and for the people with bright eyes who reminded us how to delight–how to love– when we had forgotten. It is a gratitude for the lovely place that taught us what it means to love a place.
What are we to do with this gratitude? I propose two things. First, we tend the garden, we do good work. The work of raising families, building homes, and fostering community. The work of inspiring wonder through the art of teaching. The work of caring for the sick, holding the hand of the dying, and sowing peace where there is injustice. The work of stewarding our land, our finances, and our businesses with integrity. And when there is suffering, the work of bearing it well, remembering that oftentimes your own cross is to help carry the cross of another.
Second, we behold the beauty of the garden and echo God’s joyful proclamation that “It is very good.” We take in beauty and we “give beauty back.” It is easy to surrender to the tyranny of efficiency and utility, that distracting voice incessantly commanding we do everything “faster, bigger, better, quicker.” But we are not machines; and we silence that voice by seeing Christ in the eyes of everyone we meet; we resist that tyranny by wasting time beautifully. It is time to sing, dance, play, and throw more parties. Tell more jokes and tell more stories. Read more poetry and literature. Wander a wood, amble around an art museum, and watch a sunset for no other reason than that such things are good and beautiful. Perhaps, indeed, for no other reason than that Christ is risen from the dead, life has overcome death, and it is time to celebrate.
And we celebrate today because our work is not yet finished: the conversations have only just begun; the wonder still bubbles up like a stream in springtime; the friendships have been built to last. And tomorrow, when we awake as graduates of Eastern University, our task will be the same as it was when we first set foot on this campus: to pour out ourselves in love
Class of 2015, professors, faculty, and staff of Eastern University, thank you for reminding me over and over again that “Christ plays in 10,000 places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father through the features of men’s faces.” I can’t wait to see all of the beautiful ways that each of you will work diligently, feast lavishly, live generously, and love abundantly. Friends, it is time to tend the garden.