Miles to Go: My Annual (non-delivered) Commencement Address
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
—Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening: Robert Frost
To the Class of 2023:
First, congratulations on your accomplishment. When you moved on campus into your residence hall on a hot August day, I doubt you had any inkling of what was ahead. You might have siblings or friends who are or were in college, and they gave you all sorts of free advice, but you had to experience it yourselves.
And, what are among your experiences? I’ll leave you to consider those in your heart. You’ve likely made friends for life, you have, hopefully, absorbed great amounts of useful information which at the time seemed disconnected with what your career or life goal is. That is what traditional college is about. It is not simply a purveyor of details you squirrel away somewhere and pull out of a drawer when you need it. A traditional liberal arts education, ideally, exposes you to ideas you may not be familiar with, concepts that seem strange given your personal experiences, and questions that are uncomfortable to face. In other words, you’re in rehearsal for life “out there”.
That life will definitely not be like the comfortable, protected, dependable life you’ve had here. But, wait! I think I’d be safe in saying things got uncomfortable, people turned hostile, and those you were sure you could depend faded away like petals on a flower.
Welcome to life “out there” after all.
So, what IS there to depend on? First and foremost, our faith in the love of Christ, and of God our Father. You want something upon which you can depend? That is first and foremost. One job, among many, you have to accomplish outside of the responsibilities of your “day job” is finding a faith community, and jumping in to assist however and wherever you can. Community is essential. Church attendance is, in a word, abysmal. Most recent data show weekly attendance among those who identify as Catholic at 17 percent. It was about 35 percent five years ago. This must be addressed, and, hopefully, you and your peers can lay the groundwork for welcoming more Catholics back to Mass. A church may be a building, but its life comes from the faith community inside We are not meant to hole up in our apartments, staring at a screen all night. Nor are we to be disconnected to the point we are discouraged, and, worse, bitter. Please, do all you are able to do to avoid that path.
Consider, with all the social media tools we have, we still crave and need the human touch. Can we go back to a modicum of lively discussions, and the sound of laughter coming from inside loving homes? I hold out hope you can, and will, find the path toward much more interpersonal communication. It’s what we humans do best.
And, what will your life journey look like? Well, you may be on the way to starting a new job, or entering the military, or discerning toward religious life. It will sound like a cliché, but the world is truly open to you, and heaven knows, it needs and wants your energy.
You’ve likely gotten plenty of advice on navigating the 21st century workplace. I’ll keep it simple: Be a good listener, be a “team player” (I know you’ve heard that enough!!), but also be principled, be politely righteous in your daily dealings, and say a prayer in your heart as you walk in the front door (or, yes, before you fire up the PC in your remote work location). God will guide you each day. Pray to St. Joseph the Worker. He knows what you’re facing. And, if you are spending too much time on your laptop, pray to St. Isadore of Seville, patron of computers and the internet. He may intervene before the next data crash, at least you can hope so!
And to your personal journey … Well, your Benedictine community has done what it can to prepare you for your life outside our campus. We pray for your well-being, and I hope you feel comfortable keeping in touch with us. If a faculty member has been especially helpful and empathetic during your college career, let them know how you’re doing. We’re your instructors for life.
No one knows what the stops on your journey will hold. There will be joy, sadness, angst, euphoria, gain, loss, and, at times, wondering if you are all alone, in the midst of thousands around you. You may be getting ready for marriage, or you may wonder who is out there, as “the one” for you, because it sure hasn’t happened yet. I can only counsel patience and prayer. This world seems very unsettled, and you may find yourself unsettled, too. And, one day, at last, you may find what you believe is, as the poet Robert Frost put it, woods that are “lovely, dark, and deep”. But, to paraphrase what Frost further states, You have promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep. Miles to go before you sleep.
The work that belongs to you, a Benedictine College graduate, is never-ending. As Benedict states in the prologue, you are in the world, but not of it. The distractions of the world must not deter you.
As you leave today, look around one more time before you head out on your journey, guided by the star of love, the hand of God, and the enfolding arms of all who love you.
All in your circle are here. We love you. God be with you, and best, the truly best of luck.