“Community” Commencement Speech to SWS Class of 2012
By James Meier
The Class of 2012. My, oh my! What thrills you have given us. What mysteries you have unfolded before our eyes. What memories you have made for us. You are a force to be marveled at, and at times, reckoned with…you know who you are. We are so proud of you as individuals and we celebrate each and every one of you today. You are talented and accomplished and the world needs young people of character and purpose like you. I could go on like this and exhort you to stride forth into the world, follow your true star, claim your places as unique individuals in God’s creation, stand on your own two feet and sing your song of yourself. But I have a different suggestion.
First, I ask that you put aside, for a moment, your individual triumphs and aspirations. I ask us all to take that ideal of rugged individualism down from its pedestal and allow that icon to mingle with the crowd. Abandon the metaphor that offers you the stark choice between the boldness of the lone wolf or the meek submission of the sheep. Instead, wrap your hearts and minds, but especially your hearts, around the vision that thrills to the resiliency of the pack and the reassurance of the fold.
We are struggling as a society with what it means to be a society. We are fractured into smaller and smaller social units that polarize and isolate us more and more each day. We hear it in the name-calling that passes for political debate. We see it in social policies based on fear and blame. We feel it in the general disregard for the well-being of others in exchange for material comforts. It is easy to put the onus on the internet and those pesky “social networks,” but that would be confusing the symptom with the sickness and only serve to confirm in your minds how hopelessly out of touch I am.
My point is that we are in desperate need of community. We seem to have lost touch with the natural state of empathy that we are heir to. We have forgotten the art of compromise and must revive the notion that the ideas, dreams, and feelings of others are at least as important as our own. As a species, we are predisposed to cooperate, support, aid, and congregate but as a culture we have chosen to compete, hoard, threaten, and isolate. It doesn’t have to be this way.
This is where I turn to you, dear graduates, for a glimpse of the shining face of hope. For you have been schooled in the art of community. From kindergarten to the Senior Play you have learned the value of giving support to those around you because you know what it feels like to be supported. You have learned to lead, but also to follow… to quietly swallow the valid point you have been waiting to make because it’s time for the discussion to end. You have been the beneficiaries of extraordinary generosity of spirit, time, resources, and effort from everyone you see in this room and many more besides.
This is community. Take a big, long drink of this. Remember all of the times that someone was there when you needed a helping hand. Understand that for each of those moments you remember, there were ten that you never even knew about. Most of all, remember how it felt when you were the one who pitched in and gave the helping hand and saw the face of gratitude smiling back at you.
To be sure, community is a place to share your triumphs, join in the celebration of each other’s achievements as we are doing here today, but it is so much more important to share your doubts, your frustrations, and your hardships. It is in difficulties, failures and tragedies that community finds its center, its strength, and its resilience. One other thing necessary to a healthy community is work. When we strive together in real and meaningful work, to build something, to achieve something, to create something that did not exist before, community will arise.
So, go forth and create community; find your roommates, your dorms, your classes, your clubs. There will be neighborhoods, churches and cooperatives. Join choirs, orchestras, teams, and troops. Eventually, there will be your children’s schools…I’m not saying they have to be Waldorf schools, but…. In each of these gatherings, in each of these coalitions, in each of these communities you will find warmth. You will bring warmth. More than that, by coming together, by working together, by striving together, you will create that human warmth that sustains us all, that reaches beyond the false boundaries and moves throughout the wider world to create something better for all mankind. This is how we can heal the world.
When you are finished with healing the world, don’t forget what Mrs. Gray told you at Senior Walk through a week ago: come back. Come back to school, certainly, but also return to those homes that welcomed you, fed you, sheltered you, and offered you solace. This is your gauge, this is your template, this is your original. If you lose your sense of what community should feel like, smell like or taste like…come back.
We know you, we see you, we love you.
We are your community.