Au revoir, not adieu

Commencement is always an interesting experience. As a faculty member, honoring students who have completed the curriculum is a deep privilege. There’s also a bit of sorrow at the thought of not seeing these men and women again, some of whom have had a profound influence on my life.

The frequency with which people enter and leave our lives leads to some questions and problems, it seems to me, with how we understand relationships and community. There are fewer and fewer people who grow old with the friends and neighbors they grew up with. It’s is difficult to share one’s whole life with someone apart from the confidence that comes from knowing them deeply, and the knowledge that their knowledge is just as deep and thorough, so thorough that you can trust them fully with whatever is current and critical. The difficulty doesn’t lessen our need for those people in our lives.

The faculty/student relationship has its own dynamics that inevitably lead to reserve, on both sides, I suspect (having been on both sides of that relational dynamic). The idyllic image of that relationship portrayed in a movie like The Emperor’s Club is difficult to realize in our society, with its expectations for immediate practicality of knowledge and entertainment value in presentation. Our institution gives a lot of intentional effort to making teacher/student interaction possible, though, which I hope has led to some benefit to students and faculty from those opportunities.

As much as we need and desire lifelong relationships with like-minded people we can share life with, we do need relate well and deeply with the people who are in our lives only for a short season, be it a semester or a year or a full university curriculum, still a short time in the context of the typical lifespan. Knowing ahead of time the sorrow of parting leads us at times to withdraw commitment to lessen that feeling, but that’s a mistake. It isn’t by accident that the specific people we encounter are in our lives, even if it’s only for a short time, and we forfeit some of the best life has to offer when we close ourselves off from them.

The sadness lasts for a little while when life transitions occur, but the joys of relationship during the time we experience them, and the benefits to ourselves from what people bring to our lives, will stay with us throughout our lives. Enjoy the present, with hope for the future, even knowing the sorrows of partings it will include.

Godspeed, Grace University Class of 2011. And thanks.

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