Baccalaureate Invocation, Prayers, Blessings & Commencement Benediction, 2017

B A C C A L A U R E A T E   2017


The 13th century Sufi poet Jalalal-din al-Rumi left us two mystical lines that might work as an epigraph for today:

Let the beauty that we love be what we do –
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

I don’t know if you think of what you’ve been doing here, over these years, as beauty.

Some of what there is to do, as a citizen of any human community or institution, is not, on the face of it, very beautiful.  But “beauty” isn’t a simple word – any more than community is a simple word – so, on a day like this one, maybe you’d be willing to push the boundaries of its meaning deeper, or stretch them wider.

Maybe, on this day of all days in your Williams career, you’d be willing to think about the confluence of place and people and work and time as constituting something that could be called “beauty.”  Maybe, from this vantage point, you’d even be willing to include struggle and uncertainty and even some forms of sadness as part of what could be called “beauty.”  No, not all of it was beautiful.  But let “Beauty” be a name for what we have loved about the complicated life we’ve lived, at the confluence of place and people and work and time. Let “Beauty” be a name for what it feels like to be loved back by life itself.

Let that be what we do.  Let living life that fully, that candidly and courageously, that flagrantly, be our work in days to come, as it has been our work in these years.  Let us always remember what it felt like to pause here together on this threshold between the gathering twilight of one particular day in our history, and the pale, promising morning sky of another day, the next day – to pause here and peer right through the heap of life-changing moments and the utterly ordinary, almost-unnoticed moments, to the very heart of things.  May the remembering, the pondering, the wistfulness and the regrets and the inspiration and the reaching, the reaching most of all – may the layered meaning and the poignant memory and the firm resolve – may it all be what we do.

And may spending these few precious moments together, in the presence of the towering mystery of all these things, be a way of kneeling to kiss the ground – not the ground of this or any other particular zip code, this or any other community or institution, but the ground of being alive, the ground in which we grow.  May there indeed be hundreds of ways – 527 of them, in this instance – to kneel and kiss the ground.  Let the beauty that we have loved be what we do.

-The Reverend Dr. Richard E. Spalding, Chaplain to the College



            Prayer is, simply, a name for the leaning of the heart – toward the light, toward the good that we desire, toward the well from which we replenish our hope.  So, as we have shared so much leaning together over these years, let us savor that spirit of ripened memory, quieted mind, and deepened attention in the leaning of our hearts together now – while we can still all be in the same time and place –


O Source of all blessings,

We thank you for the breath that sustains us,
For the food of the earth our common home.

We thank you for the mystery of creation:
For the beauty all around us,
That our eyes can see and our hands can touch,
For the joys that fill our hearts.
For all that draws us beyond the definitions of our selves.

We thank you for our families
That have nurtured, encouraged and supported our becoming.

We thank you for setting us in this community
For the company of friends we have found here
Who love us by choice.
For our companions in the noble work of this place,
That share our burdens and daily tasks.
For the faculty and staff that welcomed us into their midst,
And so deftly attended to our growth.
For the people from other lands
That have invited us to expand our understanding of the world.

We thank you for quiet moments of reflection
When in stillness and silence our hearts have recognized
That your grace is more real than rocks and trees and rivers,
That it is your freely given gift,
Not politically or synthetically produced,
Nor bound by religious creeds or well-crafted constitutions
A gift that eludes captivity from hardened prejudice and faulty perspectives.

Your grace emanates unexpectedly
Always an event, an experience,
An encounter that engenders a peace
Which cultivates the wonder
That ensures that every day is extraordinary
And each person we encounter special.

Therefore, we cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
Thank you,
Thank you.

-Father Gary Caster, Catholic Chaplain

 In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

We are told in the Quran that God gave the human being a beautiful distinction, a unique capacity – for we were given the ability to comprehend not only with our minds, but with awakened hearts; we were given the choice to speak not only with our tongues, but through our acts of care and concern for one another; and were given the choice to build, not simply shelter from the elements, but the foundations for just, peaceful, ethical societies.

We inhabit this life not only with our brains and bodies, but with our souls and conscience.  Imam ‘Ali, may God be pleased with him, said, “You presume you are a small entity, but within you is enfolded the entire universe.”

In your quest for a life with meaning and lasting impact,

May you find compelling power in the practice of kindness and gentleness;

May you find strength through patience and resilience;

May you find elevation through humility and modesty;

May you find inexhaustible wealth through gratitude and contentment;

May you find nobility through self-discipline and moderation;

May you find wisdom through pause and deliberation;

May you find transformation through embodying mercy and compassion.

You are more than the sum of your degrees or acquired status, for in your being is potential to uncover faith, hope, empathy, courage, selflessness, love.  If you choose to cultivate these gifts, they can inspire works that endure long after the titles and transient things of this world perish.

May you discover your beautiful distinction so that you might apply the fullness of your lives and influence to serving the most vulnerable: the marginalized and voiceless; victims of abuse and violence; the refugee; the orphan; the neighbor.

May God’s all-embracing peace be with you, and your families, and all those you will uplift and care for.


-Ustadh Sharif A. Rosen, Muslim Chaplain

Holy Mystery – As we pause to name gratefully the gifts that surround us here – give us wisdom and courage enough to imagine a new time, beginning tomorrow, to which each of us, in our own way, can be a gift.

Time after time we have wondered at this world: the integrity of earth, the intricacy of its systems and the imperfections of our own.   We have grieved the ravaging of the environment, and immersed ourselves in the labors of science and of art to save it.  To a planet that still awaits the ratification of our commitment, give us as a gift.

Day by day we have felt the care of those who labor around us and on our behalf.  The skill of hands that have nourished our bodies and maintained our living spaces and looked after our records; the discipline of the minds that have given us tools to shape our thinking; the steadfast love of family and friends who have believed for us what we have not always been able to believe for ourselves – these gifts have been our daily bread.  To a human family that hungers for such nourishment as this, and still cannot be fully confident that it will find what it needs to sustain life, give us as a gift.

Over and again we have watched as the scourges of war and want have distorted identity and imprisoned hope.  Injustice and corruption, greed and indifference have twisted the noblest image of humanity.   To a world where there is sometimes so much to fear and so little to trust, give us as a gift.

Give us ears for the questions.  Give us hearts for the answers.  Give us bread for the journey.  Give us impatience for the beginning.  Give us hope for the end.

For we are bold to ask these things, and eager to offer these things, in the name of all that is holy to each of us alone, and all that is holy to all of us together.     Amen.

-The Reverend Dr. Richard E. Spalding, Chaplains to the College


May the Source of Mercy inspire you to become wise, prudent stewards of the earth’s delicate
resources, and caring and compassionate in your service to the well-being of all
people and all creation;
May the Source of Peace make you one who comforts and uplifts those who struggle, and suffer;
May the Source of Guidance help you deploy your hearts and minds and hands to the efforts that
heal, and reconcile, and inspire;
May the Source of Light make you a light unto your communities, and our world.

-Ustadh Sharif A. Rosen, Muslim Chaplain

May the places in which you find yourself bless you –

places that are different enough from this place,
to make you remember the mark that this place has left on you.
May you draw strength from the beauty of this place
for all the living you will do in all the places of your life.

And may the people among whom you find yourself bless you –
people who are as new to you as the people in this room once were,
to remind you that the circle must always, always stay open.
May the people you will know be as much a gift to you as those you have known,
and weave you ever more deeply into the web of the human family.

And may the work you take on bless you –
        work that is your work, to which you can bring
your full mind and your whole heart.
May you may draw confidence from the work you have done here
to nourish all the work you will do after you leave here.

 And may the time that will be yours bless you –
    time that will recall this time, but that will always be new –
time that will stir your conviction and reward your hope.
May you draw wisdom from the time you have spent here
to guide you in whatever time may lie ahead of you now.

 And as you go from this place, leave behind this work, and remember this time,
may you believe that you can be a blessing to the places you go,
a blessing to the people you meet and the work that you will take on,
a blessing to the time you are given –
even as you have been a blessing to this place, these people, this work, this time.

May the holy and indelible blessing that is upon you now,
go with you and abide with you and encourage you
tonight and tomorrow and always and evermore.

So – even as the sun sets on one chapter, the dawn of the next is upon us.
Let us enter into it wholeheartedly, and in peace:

    Peace be with you.  Namaste.  Salaam aleikum.  Vaya con Dios!
    Pax vobiscum.  Shalom.  Go with God.

-The Reverend Dr. Richard E. Spalding, Chaplain to the College


C O M M E N C E M E N T   2017


Four years ago you chose to bring your living here, of all places in the world, in order to learn in a way that could only happen if you held that kind of a stake in it.

Now, in the wisdom of tradition and ritual, that intention has been fulfilled, and learning is a thing that this institution is willing to certify that you have, and to place a mark of time upon it.

But the word “learning” hovers in a liminal place in our language.  It’s a noun – an accomplishment, a result, an endowment – something you have.  But it’s also a verb, of that slippery, gerund kind – a movement, a happening, a vector.  It both stays, and must be going.

Today marks the culmination of a time when, for you, learning has been something to acquire.  Today we have paused to honor and admire what you’ve done, what you’ve mastered, what you have.

But today also marks the passage of your learning into a new phase of movement.  Today what you have no longer just is; it’s now on its way.  It’s now becoming.

So, as you go from this place,

May your learning become wisdom
may the time to come season what you know
with humility, and patience, and understanding.

And may your learning become empathy
may the people you meet and the stories you hear
cause you to put what you know in the service of compassion.

And may your learning become commitment
may the questions you ask and the questions asked of you
move you to enact what you know as principled conviction.

And may your learning become service
may the problems you encounter call you
to pour out in generosity what you know in both your mind and your heart.

Learning is becoming.  Learning becomes you.
Learning stays; it abides.  You can trust it.  Lean on it.  Stand on it.
And – learning must be going.  It must be on its way.
Like you.  With you.  For you – and for the world which now waits for you,
and needs, so desperately, your wisdom, your empathy, your commitment, your service.

So – on your way.  With blessings.  In peace.

So be it.  Alleluia!  Amen.

-The Reverend Dr. Richard E. Spalding, Chaplain to the College