Thank you too for the administrative staff: the cookers, maintainers, plowers, drivers , admission folks, accountants and record keepers, office folk, nurse and the leadership thereof. If you decided to cease your efforts for a day, the whole institution would fall into chaos.
Thanks and appreciation to Todd for his leadership in all seasons and realms of Summit life and through all challenges, large and small. Your efforts on behalf of students and staff are greatly appreciated. I appreciate your giving me the opportunity to speak to the community at his auspicious moment in my life.
Rick and Jan Johnson , we owe you a debt of gratitude for your vision and skills in getting Summit up and running and playing an important role in supporting our efforts in making Summit work.
Students , thank you for challenging me each day and for your energy cooperation and efforts. You have kept me on my toes and inspired me to be the best teacher I can be. We have been partners in education and I believe we have both benefitted from this relationship.
Finally- and most importantly- I thank my wife, partner and best friend Liann. You inspire, support, encourage and challenge me each day. Your love, understanding and wise counsel sustain me. I am a fortunate man.
Parents, thank you for your partnership and the trust and support you give us all as we pursue and explore together the best paths forward for your sons and daughters. Thank you for the hard work you put into this relationship and this process of growth and transformation.
So… as I look around the room I reflect upon the truth that I am not here solely as a result of my efforts and choices. Indeed, I can not claim any achievement , any accomplishment in life as something of my own doing. All that I am is connected to over six decades of love, support, instruction , guidance, inspiration, and challenges from parents , family, teachers, coaches, mentors , pastors , priests , friends and neighbors. In addition, there have been those others who I’ve never met and who were not alive in my lifetime but, nevertheless, accompanied me on my journey. The historians, composers, storytellers, architects, musicians and the universe of others who were at my side expanding my understanding and imagination – they all helped me here. These inspired me and planted the seeds of my life’s aspirations. They- the living and the dead, the known and unknown- all have helped me become who I am and helped me achieve what I have achieved. You, sitting here in this room and all that have accompanied me leading to this moment are present around me and in me. I am here because you and they are here. You , graduates, are here because of the efforts , guidance, mentoring and inspiration of others. This graduation is a celebration of the roles of others in our lives and how community is at the core of our humanity.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, we celebrate the individual as an autonomous being capable of controlling its own destiny. This assumption has never been true and runs counter to our nature and history as human beings. Though we are each unique individuals we are historically and biologically social creatures bound up in each others’ lives. The modern concept of individualism (a concept born out of 17th and 18th Century Enlightenment thinking and expanded upon over the past 300 years) frames human endeavors and achievements as the consequence of our individual choices, actions, thoughts and beliefs. But , in reality, each of these were planted in us, presented to us, cultivated in us and brought to fruition , in large part, by the efforts and influences of others living and dead. At most, we give our assent to the work and influences of others who have become part of who we are.
My studies , teaching , observations and ruminations have led me to this truth: (facing the graduates) what seems like your success and accomplishment leading to this moment is rooted in a greater, more complex and interesting story. It is a story involving a small universe of others present now, here, at your side. Some- your parents, peers, mentors, therapists, teachers, guides- are here today with you, wishing you well. We celebrate with you. Others – the invisible ones- are also here participating in this moment. They have given you innumerable gifts that have made your presence here possible. They , with your participation and assent , got you here.
So what are you (the graduates) to make of all of this? What are you to do now, going forward? My answer is this ( and years of studying, living observing and participating in life leads me to believe that it’s a good one) : You owe it to yourself and the ones who accompanied you here to be of service to others. Indeed, you must be a servant to the world and use what you have experienced to the benefit of others-particularly those in need. What would such an undertaking look like? Here are some important and universal attributes you must cultivate along your journey beyond Summit and this moment:
- Humility (realizing that you are one of so many more)
- Compassion (to participate in the struggles and suffering of others as a way of deepening your connection to humanity)
- Gratitude (thankfulness for what you have been given / blessed with and for the multitude of others who have helped you along the way)
- Appreciation ( of nature, the universe , life, love and possibility)
- Love (your deep relationship to others because they are in you and you in them. With such a view you will never look at anther as unequal or deserving of less than you)
I am confident that if your life and work in the world embodies these you will achieve happiness and fullness in your humanity. After all, it is humanity that got you this far. Now you must make your humanity a gift to those living and yet to be born; to those known and unknown .
All the best. Thank you All.
( note: The above is a reworking and editing of John’s first notes presented at graduation. John took the opportunity to develop his thoughts “in a more coherent and complete way” for this article. He fears that in the emotion of that moment his ideas and clarity might have suffered a bit and he begs his expanded audience’s indulgence)