Remarks for the Senior Luncheon
May 18, 2007
Senior luncheon is a wonderful moment, a time of remembrance of all that has been meaningful in your Trinity days, balanced by a certain eagerness to see what opportunities beckon beyond commencement day. Each of you has an indelible memory of friends and classmates and teachers and staff mentors who helped you through your college years. Some day long hence you will realize that you can’t quite remember the name or place the face, but you will recall with vivid awareness a moment when someone at Trinity made a difference in a startling way in your life. You will pull down your Gold Class yearbook from its place of dusty honor high on some shelf, and you will start looking for that name and face and suddenly all of the names and faces and people and events will come flooding back as if you were transported in time back to Cuvilly Hall or the Deli or Computer Lounge or Library or Philosophy Class or Biology lab or the soccer field or Trinity Center.
We, too, will carry memories of you through our future days. Those of us who choose our life’s work in education do so for the grand purpose of helping to open, enlarge and shape other minds and souls. But we have another secret motivation, too: the company of our students is a lifelong joy through the years; we take great pride as we watch our alumnae grow in your work, your families, your lives beyond commencement.
You have already given us so much to think about. I look at you and think of the wonderful gifts you have shared with Trinity already. This Gold Class of 2007 is a marvelous group of high achievers. I see Khrysle Roberts with your great devotion to faith and service. I see Eileen Denny with your ever-questioning mind — don’t stop emailing me when you graduate, I like your ideas! Leticia Maya-Callan with your boundless energy and great devotion to your sister students. Monique Baker, you did such a beautiful prayer at the Board of Trade dinner earlier this week, thank you! Nydria Humphries, you kept us on our toes! Janie Pacheco, our soccer and lacrosse teams will never be the same without you! Anne Marie Poblador, I love your deep sense of service and caring for other students. And Leah Martin! What will we do without you? You have been a bright star for all of the days you have lit up the skies of Trinity.
Well, I could be in trouble for naming names, and I have to stop there because time is running, but to all of you, know that I think of you and wish each of you so much success.
Even as I think of all that you have already meant to Trinity, I would be remiss if I failed to spell out Trinity’s expectations for the ways in which you will invest this great gift of a Trinity education, producing ever-greater returns for our society in each passing phase of your life.
You have heard this exhortation often stated in many different ways during your Trinity years. The gift of this great education comes with a price, an expectation that you will use this gift in the service of others, that you will stand up for justice for those who suffer great oppression, that you will raise your voices on behalf of the voiceless, that you will be exemplars of integrity and honor in all of the communities and workplaces you influence.
But what does all of this rhetoric really mean in the daily lives you will experience next week and next year and decades from now?
You will live these values, first and foremost, in the choices you make each day. Your Trinity education should help to inform your choices, from choices as modest as your personal consumer choices — the cars you drive or investments you make — or choices as important as where and how you choose to live, whom you choose as neighbors and friends, where you choose to work, where you choose to send your children to school, what politicians receive your support and your vote, what charities receive your gifts.
Choice is action. Choice is purpose. Choice is a product of learning. As educated Trinity Women, you are not victims of circumstance; you are powerful self-actualized beings who can rise above circumstance to use the power of choice to shape the lives you will lead and influence. Circumstances may try to diminish your spirit and cloud your thinking. You may experience painful discrimination on the basis of race or nationality or gender or other characteristics; you may know poverty, insecurity, great sorrows. But you are now an educated person, and you must use your education to choose to conquer those adversities that are part of your human condition so that you can rise up as a teacher, leader, advocate for others. I see this problem sometimes among women who make the choice to let other people or circumstances dictate their feelings: you can choose to be angry and wallow in recrimination when life hurts you; or you can choose to hitch up your boots and laugh out loud as you dance past the devil of self-pity. Choose to dance — that’s the best sign that your education is serving one of its most important purposes.
Your choices become statements about your moral values, your commitments to justice and peace. You will make choices on large public issues at the voting booth and local town hall meeting, at the PTA or in volunteer service, in statements you write for publication, advocacy you undertake on the issues of life and death in this nation, the issues of war and peace, the issues of economic justice for all.
Einstein once said that, ‘The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.’ We expect you to use the power of your choices to do something, to make the world a little safer, a little more enlightened, more just and more secure for others.
Your choices will be very different in many ways from those available to prior generations. You are in the vanguard of a new era in our society’s political and social cultures, and you will be part of the educated elite who will make new rules for new social conditions. The old social constructs of the 20th century are ill-suited for contemporary life even in this still-early part of the 21st Century. Outmoded concepts of power and authority are increasingly challenged by autonomous individuals with the vast powers of communication and choice afforded by modern technology. Look no further than the massive struggle that musicians and film makers are waging against the power of individuals to download digital content. Tower Records is dead. The music CD is almost dead, buried alongside the cassette tape, the turntable, the vinyl record. The autonomous individual with a little wifi and a small screen can kill icons of industries. Just ask a travel agent.
The autonomous individual also threatens the old order concept of the nation-state and how its leaders are chosen and how we the people learn about them, understand them, communicate with them. Globalization is really about connectivity and the collective power of individual choice — the flat world is today’s reality. Those who harness that connectivity effectively win the most business, the most votes, the reality show contests and the presidential campaigns. It’s the reason why the major presidential candidates all have MySpace.com presence — that’s the only way they can imagine reaching voters who would never think to watch commercials or debates on those hoary old channels broadcast by major television networks. Networks are dying; the evening news is already a relic. Newspapers are in grave decline. The autonomous consumer of news picks it up as background noise all day in bits and bytes on the internet or radio.
Isolated, autonomous individuals also threaten the security of citizens in nation-states; some individuals now act completely outside of the borders of civilization. Terrorism is the evil metastasis of a sense of autonomy that rejects the common good as the unifying value of the society. Terrorism seeks to destroy the society by undermining the individual sense of security and freedom from fear that is essential for other freedoms to flourish. Fear can be the most oppressive form of tyranny in all of human life. 3,000 people died on September 11 and 300 million now live with the consequence, a vague daily fear that it will happen again and any one of us might be at ground zero.
The inability of old forms of government, constructed over the last two centuries, to govern effectively in these new circumstances has led to increasingly ineffective governance characterized by massively wasteful initiatives that seek to gain control over that which has become ungovernable. Think about thousands of FEMA trailers rotting in the sun while Katrina victims remain homeless. Think about National Guard troops and supplies bogged down in the Middle East while the people in America’s Midwest lack the emergency services they needed after tornadoes and floods devastated Kansas and Missouri towns earlier this month.
Perhaps no endeavor of government in modern life more clearly exemplifies the futile effort of the nation-state to control the force of autonomous individuals than the War on Terrorism, and particularly, the War in Iraq. We certainly should have known better after Vietnam, but we didn’t learn. This nation-state, hurt and bewildered by September 11, roared in anger as we flew into Baghdad, avenging the dead by bombing that ancient cradle of civilization back into the dust from which it arose thousands of years ago. But the terrorists, the individuals still working outside of the nation-state through their various insurgent cells, are wreaking havoc on the military machine and the citizens of Iraq. We cannot stomp out the lawlessness. We are now the victims of our own shock and awe.
In the middle of this messy struggle between the old nation-state models of governance and the modern phenomenon of autonomous individuals massing and morphing and regrouping through cyberspace, the United States will have a presidential election. Oh, my!
Consider these other signs of the end of the old 20th Century forms of power and authority: we no longer assume that wealthy white men educated at the most elite east coast Ivy League universities (Harvard ,Yale, Princeton) will be the rulers. We are in an age when a woman educated in a place called Trinity wields great national power, too — Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. We are in an age when an African American woman can graduate from a relatively young western university, Stanford, and become Secretary of State — Condoleeza Rice. We are in a moment when a woman educated in a place called Wellesley is a serious presidential candidate — Hillary Rodham Clinton. We are in an age when an African American man has a serious shot at his party’s nomination for president — Barack Obama. We are in a moment when fully one-third of the nation’s citizens are not white — 100 million of our 300 million citizens — and that number will soon reach 50%. We are in an age when a woman governs Germany, a woman was a serious presidential candidate in France, and the governor of Kansas, the ultimate center of the old order, the reddest of all red states, is a Democratic woman from a college called Trinity — Governor Kathleen Sebelius. These are small signs of change, but change none-the-less. Our ideas about who may have power and what power they may wield are changing dramatically. The next fifty years will see these glimmers at the edges converge into the vast mainstream, and you will be riding the crest of the waves of the new social order. You will have startling new choices for national leadership and governance in the decades to come.
You may well be part of that leadership. We have great expectations for you. Someday, members of this class will have their banners hanging down in the Well in Main Hall, just as we have Nancy Pelosi’s banner there today. Someday, one of you may stand in the well of the House or Senate, wielding the gavel and leading your peers in making decisions that will be just and right for a good society. Someday some of you will stand in the front of classrooms or before television screens or at the podium of a major trade show or the head of the board room table. You will have the opportunity to express your deepest moral convictions about the direction of your company, your legislation, your school, your neighborhood, your family. John Gardner once said that leadership is about expressing the moral values of the community (see: No Easy Victories) — this is what we expect of you, our latest class of Trinity students educated for global leadership at a time of some of the most dramatic political, cultural and social change the world has ever known.
We have every confidence in you. May you go forth from commencement day with the power of the knowledge you acquired here at Trinity, the wisdom and grace that come through your faith and integrity, and passion for justice and compassion for others that are hallmarks of Trinity graduates.
May the friends who sit with you today be your friends for life, those true friends who call you to be true to yourself, to uphold your values, who challenge you, comfort you, and celebrate with you at each stage of life. May you always know the blessings of the Trinity, today, this weekend and forever.
Congratulations, Golds of 2007!