by Dr. W. Craig Turner, President
(Catawba College, May 9, 2009)
Congratulations! You have achieved a major milestone — you have shaken my hand and received your diploma. You leave here today as one of the world's privileged citizens: you are now officially a college graduate. While your time at Catawba is at an end and you will be missed by your Catawba family, it is a time of celebration and of new opportunities — the doors are now opened for the next stage of your life. Thus, this is a commencement — a beginning.
In a very short time, this rapidly changing world in which we live will belong to you. You and your cohorts will be in charge: you'll be doctors and lawyers, preachers and teachers, businesspersons and social workers, coaches and athletic trainers, politicians and poets, performers and perhaps even a college president or two.
But we are here today not only to celebrate and congratulate, but also to challenge you. What I will say today is familiar, simple, direct, and short. As a teacher, I offer these as advice for you to consider as you exit our doors and enter new ones.
First: Be a person of Hope.
These are certainly difficult, even tumultuous times: we are immersed in wars, we live in daily awareness of international terrorism, we are struggling with a world-wide economic crisis, we are threatened by pandemics that no one seems to understand, and we face environmental issues of massive proportions. Several years ago I read that the single most debilitating force in the American workplace in the 21st century is negativism. While these and scores of other threats and obstacles can overwhelm our daily existences, the challenge that I offer you is to dream large and important dreams for your future. My favorite quotation from my favorite poet, Robert Browning, is, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"
Let's face it, a positive, hopeful attitude is kind of like changing a diaper: it doesn't necessarily solve any long-term problems, but it certainly makes life more comfortable for us and everyone around us. I love the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "'I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Be a person of hope.
Second: Be a person of Faith.
Uncertainty surrounds us every day: the future is both unknown and, in many respects, uncontrollable. Fortunately, having faith doesn't mean having all the answers. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson has written, "There lives more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds." In order to transcend the questions and difficulties that inundate our daily lives, we should cultivate a lifestyle that nurtures our faith in something outside ourselves.
We need to be around people in whom we can place our faith. We need to believe in something that can ground our thinking and living. Be a person of Faith.
Third: Be a person who Loves.
Love is all about caring. It is caring enough to stand in another person's shoes to understand where they are in life. It incorporates not just sympathy — feeling sorry for someone's predicament — but also empathy — trying to feel what they are experiencing. But love isn't just about feeling. Ultimately, I think, love is treating people the way we would like to be treated ourselves. It demands a commitment from us, an act of the will to get outside ourselves and our everyday issues and decide to make a difference for good. Be a person who loves.
Some of you have recognized that I have borrowed from St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians: "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
I don't expect you to remember my words today, but please do not forget Paul's summation: faith, hope, and love.
Congratulations and God bless you!