Baccalaureate & Commencement 2016

B A C C A L A U R E A T E   2016


      This life flows on in endless song above earth’s lamentation.
      I hear the real though far-off hymn that hails a new creation.
      No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging;
      It sounds an echo in my soul – how can I keep from singing?

      What though the tempest ‘round me roars?  I know the truth, it liveth.
      What though the darkness round me falls – songs in the night it giveth.
      No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging;
      It sounds an echo in my soul – how can I keep from singing?

“This life flows on” – so the song says.  It envisions the life we share as a song, and urges us to sing it as counterpoint to “earth’s lamentation.”  It contemplates a distant melody that “hails a new creation” – and bids us hold fast to the rock of our “inmost calm” echoing in our souls.  It beckons us to a new way of seeing earth, a new way of being on earth.  How can we keep from singing?

By the golden light of this, your final evening as a student at this college, there is indeed a new creation in the works in your life.  What is taking shape in you now will call forth the best you can offer to the very real lamentations of the earth around us.  This evening, as you pool your memories and compile your hopes and savor your gratitude, you’re standing fixed on the rock of blessings that even the storms can’t shake: the blessing of indelible friendship, the blessing of work that matters, the blessing of an appetite for challenge, the blessing of your stubborn habit of envisioning the real possibility of transformation.  How can you keep from singing??

So, for the short time we have left together in this place, may we consecrate our hindsight view of these years to the work of believing the future into being.  May the Great Mystery that whispers compassion and mercy, justice and righteousness, love and forgiveness in our ears hover around us and breathe within us and help us to hold the past thoughtfully and honestly, and to hold the future wisely and courageously.  And may we savor the deep joy and the blessing of one another’s company – because of all the reasons that there are to sing in such a world and such a time as this, singing together, while you can, is one of the best.

[hymn: This Grateful Place]



Think of Williams as a place where respiration meets inspiration – where the simple miracle of breathing – of being alive – is so often joined by inspiration, that infusion of breath that seems to come from beyond, and sharpens the sense of wonder and possibility.  Because this is Williams, this mystical union of respiration and inspiration is not without perspiration too.  But it’s all about the breath.

Well, then – think of prayer as a form of conspiracy: con-spiracy, respiring-with, breathing together the breath of life. Think of these moments of calm as being built upon the rock of all the joy and all the struggle you’ve lived and breathed here.  Think of these moments of reflection as a way of breathing in together the meanings of this place, these years, these people.  And think of these moments of peace as breathing out together all the hope we have for each other, and all the commitment we have to this fragile, luminous world.  Think of prayer as the song we float on the breath of our living – as we let a silence fall over us, a peace well up among us, a hope stir within us –

[a moment of silence is kept]

Great Mystery, we pause to consider the wonder of this breathing planet.  We hold before us the image of those plaintive eyes of creatures whose days are numbered.  We hold among us the sense of common calling to compassion for every living thing.  Teach us to live lightly upon this earth – and to hear its lamentations.  Breathe into us the courage to change.

We pause to consider the blessings and privileges upon which these years have been built.  We hold the memory of triumphs and failures.  We treasure the company of those who have taught us to recognize the wonder and scope of our own lives.  Free us from bondage to the mistakes we have made.  Teach us to live the kindness we have most valued here.  Breathe into us the patience to listen.

We pause to consider the struggles of the human family; we pause to consider what we have learned from struggles of our own that makes their struggles intelligible to us.  We hold the awareness of violence, particularly of wars fought in our name and of the enforced poverty of others that fuels our affluence.  Teach us to recognize the disgrace of justice denied or postponed, and the grace of equality and reconciliation.  Breathe into us the empathy that will be the best hope of every community we will ever call home, even as it has been the best hope of the community we have built here.

Breathe with us, Great Mystery of life.  Stir up life within us.  Inspire conviction among us.  Join us in a conspiracy of hope in action.

We ask these things humbly – in the name of all that is sacred to each of us alone, and all that is sacred to all of us together.

So be it.  Amen.



[Rick seats the congregation following the conclusion of the hymn.]

[Fr. Gary offers his blessing.]

Then Sharif offers his blessing.

In the Name of God, the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate
Dear Class of 2016, I extend congratulations to you, your families and loved ones as we gather
this weekend in celebration of this milestone in your lives.
In these moments of pending departure and possibility, you leave Williams with more than your
degree in a particular area of study. Alongside the enrichment of the classroom, on‐and offcampus,
you developed a fuller sense of your deepest values and purpose by considering the
moral and ethical questions of our times, by building student communities, by serving others,
and our wounded world. Most of you at some point in your Williams experience made a
difference in the lives of another whether by assisting at‐risk youth, home‐bound seniors,
recent refugees, and many others. Through the sum of these encounters, you are poised to
become agents ‐‐ not only of change ‐‐ but agents of character and conscience. We commend
you for both your academic achievements, and for your heightened awareness and
engagement on the most urgent challenges facing our neighborhoods, and our earth.
I offer a prayer to God, the Most Merciful, that your achievements, now and onwards, be
accompanied by humility;
That the endless flow of blessings you experience, be conjoined with equal amounts of
That your missteps give rise to self‐evaluation and the courage to make amends;
That through your setbacks, the treasures of patience and forbearance be yours;
That your words and works be guided by wisdom and reflection;
And in all conditions, that you be held in the protective, loving care of the Divine, reflecting
towards all of the creation the mercy and concern that God is extending towards us, at every
May you leave this exceptional place, in these tenuous times, continually ready to listen, to
learn, to serve, and to love.
God’s peace be with you all. Amen.

[Then Bob sings the Three-fold Blessing.]

           Fr. Gary speaks the first internal line.  Sharif speaks the second.  Rick speaks the final line.

Then, to conclude the service, Rick says:

Arise, let us be going.  (All stand.)
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.


C O M M E N C E M E N T   2016


Many of the things that matter most to us – the things that animate us, that speak to us from the very core of who we are – are invisible to the naked eye.

Conviction, for example.  You can say it’s there; you can describe how wide it is, or how deep, or how strong.  There’s no shortage of words that can be spoken or written about it.  But words don’t make it visible.  Only time does that.  But if you pour time over it – if you hold conviction in the flowing stream of time – it becomes possible to see its texture, its heft, its true colors.

And wisdom is like that.  It’s no trick to see the books on the shelf, or to spot the diploma framed on the wall.  But you can’t see the understanding, or the humility, or the compassion, until you hold knowledge under the flow of time and watch how it makes everything it touches more luminous, more durable.  Is the knowledge you’ve labored so urgently to acquire turning into wisdom?  Hold it in the stream of years; time will tell.

And friendship is like that.  You can say it’s there…   But until you hold it in the steady stream of time, you can’t really be sure what you’re seeing.  What’s it made of?  What weight can it bear?  At what temperature does it dissolve?  Time will tell.

And hope is like that.  Hope tries so hard to live in words.  But it’s only when you hold it in the stream of time that you can see how sturdy it really is, and how supple.  Only time will tell you how beautiful hope is.

We hope that being at Williams has filled you with these invisible things: conviction, friendship, wisdom, hope.  There’s no shortage of words about these things – the words we read and write, the words we make ceremonies out of, the words we treasure and ponder.

But the thing that’s still needed is time – and time is what you have now, beginning today.  Has your education made your mind agile?  Has living in this community brought your conscience to life, or multiplied the dimensions of your empathy?   Have these friendships opened your heart to the waiting hearts of a world full of strangers?  Time will tell.

But time is what you have now!  The blessing of time.

So may you go from this place and hold what you have received here out in the flowing stream of time.

May the flowing stream of years reveal to you the blessing of conviction: may you speak the truth as you see it carefully, thoughtfully – for the sake of the healing of the world.

May the flowing stream of years reveal to you the blessing of wisdom: may you listen even more carefully than you speak, and keep all the doors and windows of you open –  for the sake of the understanding of the world.

May the flowing stream of years reveal to you the blessing of friendship: may you offer the same treasures of love and solidarity that you receive – for the sake of the reconciliation of the world.

May the flowing stream of years reveal to you the blessing of hope: may you live leaning forward, live toward the light, always convinced of the possibility of transformation – for the sake of the joy of the world.

Go now into the world in peace, dear friends.  Watch for blessings.  Time will tell.

So be it!  Alleluia!  Amen.