On May 13, 2018, I will walk across a stage, shake hands with important administrative figures, be given a diploma, and be told that I am a graduate of the University of Dallas.
My journey to that singular moment of personal glory is a unique and mostly trivial story. I imagine all the other graduates have similar stories, some more gripping, some more pedestrian.
But from that moment a new story will begin, one in which we all will author new meanings for our lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
It is odd that so many people will gather in a predetermined location to celebrate something about themselves that they have arbitrarily deemed worthy. It is even more odd that this is treated as an ordinary occurrence, an event that can and should be replicated each year and at a variety of locations and for diverse purposes.
But here we are again. We have captured time, holding ourselves together by a scene meant to ravish our senses and declare to us the worth of all things.
Marilynne Robinson writes, “Certainly time is the occasion for our strangely mixed nature, in every moment differently compounded, so that often we surprise ourselves, and always scarcely know ourselves, and exist in relation to experience, if we attend to it and if its plainness does not disguise it from us, as if we were visited by revelation.”
The task is to attend the experience of graduation, a mark of educational triumph and liberating promise.
Mostly, this means watching and listening, speaking when necessary and only saying the right things.
Our words will break ice and measure the world around us and inquisitively pressure the order of things. And in the end, we might find life and love as peculiarly novel and astonishingly beautiful as we ever knew they were.
As is custom, one person will be designated the commencement speaker and offer to us the best words available to them.
At other places, this custom has been demeaned by speeches profane or trite. Somebody should warn the unsuspecting victim appointed to give this year’s address that UD audiences are inordinately accustomed to hearing speeches both profound and deeply traditional.
I remember the theater at Delphi, where the knowledgeable Dr. Christopher Mirus recreated for Romers the perplexed awe with which the Greeks encountered St. Paul as he seamlessly employed their own already ancient metaphysical vocabulary to explain the divinity of the God-Man Christ.
I remember the Aula Magna at Due Santi, where the enchanting Dr. Andrew Moran provoked and persuaded those same Romers to consider that their most glaring flaw, excessive sociability, ought to be the basis for their commonality and strength of character.
I remember countless speeches in Braniff, Carpenter — may she rest in peace — Gorman and recently Cardinal Farrell Hall.
Where professors proposed that language was the vehicle for encounters with Wisdom personified, explicated the purpose and means by which Flaubert produced literary realism, and evoked the poignancy of the Barthesian punctum, the object within a work of art that emotionally wounds the viewer and fosters attachment.
And all those smaller moments where teachers and students and friends addressed each other in the kindest ways they knew how, with jokes and compliments and stories and other news.
“Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?” John Keats wrote in the autumn of his short life, the puer aeternus that poetically conjured the chaotic spirit of those primordial gods for our bewilderment and enlightenment.
Today, if not on all days, our words might carry the extraordinary weight of a task accomplished and a new undertaking hopefully favored by God. Today, spring is renewed eternal.
May our words satisfy the incredible burden that the evangelist John tells us the agapic love of Jesus extended: eis telos, to the end, or more fittingly, our express and unifying purpose.
When the occasion permits, our words can remake lives and inspire a renewal of faith and goodwill among mankind. When we graduate from UD, we can speak to each other in a new light, with the grace of words heard and understood and the promise of a new day to come.