There's No Place Like Home
commencement ceremony last week prompted me to talk about what it means
to come home. The essence of home is hard to describe, harder to grasp,
and even harder to sustain. It's not so much a fixed place as it is a
sacred space: a state of mind and heart anchored in love and committed
For the graduating seniors, the Furman campus has
been a home away from home. The green lawns and stately trees and
buildings, as well as the unhurried grace of the campus, have provided a
place of comfort and exploration, a vessel of experiences and memories,
a refuge from the chaos and tumult of the outside world. Above all,
however, Furman has provided a source of meaning to those buffeted by
ambiguity and complexity.
Now the graduates are gone. They have
packed up their emotions and possessions and have dispersed to homes
across the country and the world. Yet the campus will always provide
them with a home away from home. As Robert Frost explained in an
often-quoted passage from his poem, the Death of the Hired Man:
Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.
Less familiar is the wife's reply in Frost's poem:
I should have called home
Something you somehow haven't to deserve.
other words, home is not where we have to go but where we want to goa
true home does not begrudgingly admit usit welcomes and embraces us in a
protective mantle. Home is a place of willing generosity and
hospitalityand genuine acceptance. The ache for home lives in all of
us, writes the poet Maya Angelou. It is the safe place where we can go
as we are and not be questioned.
Home promises renewal and
restoration. To be sure, college campuses are not always pleasant homes.
Higher education is intended to stretch and stress students in serious
ways. All students experience moments when they feel deeply
uncomfortable, intellectually and emotionally. College life breeds
loneliness as well as love. Independence comes at the price of
Remember meeting your freshman roommate? Remember
your most difficult course? Remember the lonely night when it seemed
everyone else was going to the party except you?
In one way or
another most students survive such testing periods, and in the process
they develop a deserved sense of confidence and accomplishment. They
come to recognize with William Faulkner that one loves a place not just
because of its virtues but despite its defectssuch as parking tickets.
I am describing, of course, is nothing more or less than the process of
learning and maturing. Learning not only about the world of knowledge
but also learning about oneself, about limits and capabilities,
strengths and weaknesses.
I assured the graduates that their sense of new-found capacity is
portableit travels with them as they head for graduate school, their
first job, or a delightful period of transition living again with a
For that is indeed the point of it all. Furman
is a learning community whose very purpose is to nurture and empower
talented young people so that they can do splendid things in the world.
In other words, it offers graduates the tender security of fulfillment
and the itch of responsibility.
Yet I also assured the graduates that their sense of belonging to
Furman is also portable. They carry it with them in their memories and
feelings, and in their continuing relationships with classmates,
teachers, and coaches. Alma mater's reservoir of shared experiences will
engage their imaginations and touch their hearts forever.
Our sense of belonging to a home is never finished. Nor should it be.
beckoning place belongs forever to those who remember it most vividly
and grasp it most surely. Home, as the writer Eudora Welty emphasized,
perseveres in bringing us back to earth when we fly too high. It never
really stops informing us, for it is forever astir, alive, changing,
reflecting, like the mind of man itself. So as I said goodbye to 650
graduates last week, I reminded them that they can come home againto a
campus and to a part of themselves that time cannot erase.