Commencement, Continuity, and Change

Graduation by Andrew Schwegler on FlickrAt Xavier and at universities across the country it’s graduation season. I’ve been through many graduations before, but this is my first as a faculty member. My first impression: hey, this is much better seat, third row on the center aisle. My second and hopefully more worthwhile thought was: I’ll still be here next year, but this place will be different. A quarter of the people who made this university what it was this year will be gone. For them classes stop, tests cease, dorm rooms are packed up, and they won’t be sitting in the student section for basketball games any more. As they process out at the end of commencement, we their teachers are given one last opportunity to wish them well and send them forth. As I stood there congratulating the newly minted graduates, I wondered: what exactly are we sending them forth with?

What remains of their time at the university? Two things in particular, I hope: friendship and learning.

  1. Friendship — it is one of the great gifts of university, whether those bonds are formed over discussions in class, or over cold pizza and beer in the dorm room as homework is done last-minute. When years later today’s graduates attend the weddings, anniversaries, and maybe even ordinations of those crazy people from their dorm, the university has remained with them.
  2. Learning — a liberal education, and even more, the freedom learning brings. This is what we faculty try to give or at least, to inspire. I have no illusions about the fact that 90% of what I teach will be forgotten shortly after the final exam. Not everything taught in class is worth remembering. But some things are: the good, the true, the beautiful and most importantly, the ability to teach oneself — a hallmark of true education. Truth revealed within the university can flourish outside its walls. It may be a struggle. Truth is hard to learn and hard to keep, but worth the effort. When a graduate returns years later and finally understands the virtues Aristotle was talking about by living them or the genius of Shakespeare by continuing to read, then the university has remained in him or her beyond graduation.

Everything truly worthwhile at a university is portable. If the four years on campus have worked the way they should, the university leaves with the students on graduation day, because its most valuable benefits survive change, continue through it, and even flourish in it.

Stat Crux dum Volvitur Orbis

Continuity through change is also a hallmark of the Christian life. The Carthusian motto captures it succinctly: Stat Crux dum Volvitur Orbis (The Cross is steady while the world turns). Jobs, locations, states of life, friends, health: all change. The world turns. Some changes are dramatic and celebrated, like commencement; most are commonplace and largely unmarked. Life changes and yet remains the same. Each of us changes and yet remains the same.

St. Ignatius’ famous motto of “Finding God in All Things” points to the very same reality. Underlying all the changeable things — even the best of them that are acknowledged at events like commencement — underlying all of them is Christ who is the continuity beyond all change.

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