Furman University President Rod Smolla
Charge to the Graduates
May 7, 2011
As we bring our proceedings to a close, let me offer a few closing reflections.
First, to all the parents who are here:
This weekend, this evening, is a time in which we as parents are filled with emotion.
This is at once a day of joy, a day of pride, and a day of some sad sentiment.
You cannot have watched your sons and daughters march those steps from their seats to the moment they received their diploma, and not have played back in your minds’ eyes, played back on the lute strings of your hearts, a bit of the march of time itself, the march of their lives with you.
Tonight we surrender yet a small piece more of our hearts to that inexorable march of time. We see them in front of us now, sons and daughters, in their caps and gowns, yet our minds flash back, and we are flooded with images and feelings of years gone by.
Our hearts and minds recall the day they were born, or they day they uttered their first words, probably words of love to some of you. You remember the day you first walked them to preschool or kindergarten. Or the day you were called to the hospital to stand beside them in an emergency or painfully talk to a doctor about a struggle for their health. You may remember tonight their triumphs—a music recital, perhaps, or a part in the school play, or their first home run, or even their acceptance to Furman. You may also tonight remember their setbacks—their first bad grade, their first failure to make their team, their first heartbroken failed romance.
And perhaps it may have been for you, as it has been for me, that there was a moment when they were 3 years old, or 6, or 9—a fleeting moment when some voice inside of you may have whispered a prayer, wishing you could freeze time—freeze that moment and hold them there in their innocence, under your shelter, hold them close to you forever, because you love them so much.
Yet if as parents we know it is hard to let them go, we know that it is time, as surely as we know that to every time, there is a season and a purpose under heaven.
We summon our courage and our faith and our love for them in sending them bravely into the future, with hope and with confidence. And as to that little sad corner of our hearts that nags at us to shed a tear we may find solace from the great writer Gabriel Garcia Garcia Márquez, whom reminds us that we should “not cry because it is over; but smile because it happened.”
And as we smile, as our moist eyes give way to the beaming smiles of happiness, to the flashes of the cameras, to the cheers and clapping as we heard their names announced, let us conjure the roaring courage of our soaring dreams for these young people.
We want so much for them.
We want it for them—we want it for the country.
We want it for society, and for the world: because we know the future of our country lies with them—as does the future of the world.
To all the other family members and friends, all the grandparents and step-parents and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbors and friends who made the trip to bear witness to this ritual rite of passage, I say that you too should feel pride, and feel connection.
You are here because you have in one way or another touched these young lives. And these young lives have in turn touched you, and it from those connections, those moments of love and friendship, and support, that all of our lives gather meaning.
And to all of you who have contributed to the education of these graduates, all the members of the faculty, all the coaches and mentors and advisors and administrators who have worked to support these students throughout their journey here, I urge you to take pride in the nobility of this great effort. It is a nobility born of the faith that their development in intellect and character has been forever enriched by exposure to a broad range of intellectual disciplines in the classic traditions of the liberal arts. For all of you who have toiled on behalf of these students, nourishing their minds and bodies and spirits, take delight in all you have done to advance their quality of life in all its polymath dimensions--physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
And finally, to you, the members of the Class of 2011, I charge you to go forth and do great works.
May your greatest work be the work of art that is your own life itself.
For those of you who will enter commerce and business, may your industry and entrepreneurship bring jobs and prosperity your communities, may you be fair in your dealings and generous in your sharings.
For those of you who will be poets and playwrights, artists and actors and musicians, may your creativity bring us insight into the truths of the human heart, may your jokes make us laugh, may your music and dance make us soar.
For those of you who will be athletes, may you compete with the spirit of lions, yet remember the wisdom of the poet to accept with grace both victory and defeat, and treat those two imposters just the same.
For those of you will serve the rule of law, may you be advocates for human liberty, defenders of human dignity, and righteous champions of justice.
For those of you will be discoverers and inventors and researchers, may you push the frontiers of science and expand the universe of knowledge and the capacities of humanity, fighting back the scourges of poverty and disease and environmental degradation.
For those of you who will join the healing arts, those of you who will be doctors or nurses, therapists and psychologists, ministers and priests and chaplains and rabbis, may you bring curing to the sick and comfort to the sick of heart, and through your empathy help guide them to the light.
For those of you who will teach, may you teach with patience and joy, seeking to instill in your students engaged curiosity and an insatiable love of learning.
For those of you who will defend our nation, may you serve with courage and honor and distinction, and the knowledge that we thank you for defending our democracy and freedom.
For those of you who will be leaders, may you lead with humility and compassion, and seek to temper the fires of passionate advocacy with civility and reason and respect, and judge not too harshly that ye shall be judged.
For those of you who will be parents, may you hold your children close and teach your children well, as so many here in this arena tonight have held and taught you.
For all of you, in whatever callings you answer, may you go forward through life with resiliency, may you find the strength to face with graceful stalwart resolve life’s tragedies and triumphs, never forgetting the importance of connection to the people who are in this arena with you tonight, never forgetting the redemptive powers of forgiveness, mercy, and love.
Those who have raised you, taught you, befriended you, mentored you, supported you, are here tonight bonded with you in that love. Perhaps one of them once read to you, as a child, the words of Dr. Seuss:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
To all of you: Good luck, Godspeed, and God Bless You.