Not So Fast
July 22, 2009
Wyant Professor Patricia Herlihy's moving words to the Class of 2009 during the autumn Senior Cap & Gown Ceremony are as true today as they were a year ago. We invite the Class of 2010, and all Emmanuel students and alumni, to be inspired by Professor Herlihy's words. It's not too late, it's never too early... but please, not so fast!
Thank you Class of 2009 so much for honoring me with your invitation to speak on this happy occasion. I am especially pleased because, while you are entering your fourth year at Emmanuel, I am beginning only my third. I feel I should be listening to you.
But after thinking about what to say to you Emmanuel seniors, I have decided I have only three words. You are all thinking, oh that's great, only three words. That means we can get on with the ceremony.
Well, NOT SO FAST.
Actually, those are the three words I want to say: NOT SO FAST.
Not so fast to leave Emmanuel. I don't mean to suggest you should fail your classes in order to remain another year. I do mean that you should savor, treasure, and live life to the fullest academically and socially this senior year.
Some of you might already be detaching yourself mentally and emotionally from full immersion in your last year at Emmanuel. You are fretting about getting a job, applying to graduate or professional schools, mulling over your future options in this period of economic crisis. To a certain extent, of course, that is only natural and, within limits, prudent. But there is only so much you can do about your future right now.
As Matthew records Christ's words, "consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they labor not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these... Be therefore not solicitous for tomorrow, for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." In short, do not borrow trouble.
I am not suggesting that you be heedless about planning your future, but unnecessary anxiety will not only get you nowhere, but you are also missing out on one-fourth of your education. Your parents, I am sure, understand the economic implications of such a waste. And you will regret missed chances as well. Be as eager about your last year of college as you were about your first.
Take full advantage of this your senior year at Emmanuel. Study well what you need to study to receive your degree, but be daring your last semester. Take a subject you have always been curious to explore but did not know if you would do well in the class. This might be your last chance to open up a whole new avenue of insight and delight. It is a privilege to study at a liberal arts institution, so seize the opportunity to expand your horizons. All your life, as you settle into your career, you will know more and more about less and less. Like most of us, you will specialize, and not have the luxury to stretch your knowledge. Remember, you have only one more year to be undergraduates and the rest of your lives to be alumni.
I only wish I had taken my own advice. Perhaps I am saying these words to you because I did not realize at the time how precious and fleeting college years would prove to be. For practical reasons, I was in a hurry to graduate and completed a B.A. in three years. At the time, I thought of graduation merely as a goal to achieve as soon as possible. Looking back, I regret that I did not engage in more extracurricular activities, and I wish that I had spent more time becoming acquainted with my professors and fellow students. I could have taken away much more from the college experience than just my degree.
So enjoy the luxury of a fourth year, look at your friends and realize that while they will remain your friends, you will probably not see them often after commencement. Enjoy their company now. Look at this beautiful campus and think about it humming with activity in which you have been engaged. Don't cease your participation now. In the years to come will you be playing sports, writing for newspapers, or acting in plays? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
Think of your advisors and the professors who have been your mentors, those who have taught you new ways of thinking about things. They have provided you with the intellectual tools you will use for life. These persons are your academic foster-parents, so to speak. Seek them out, communicate with them as much as possible, not only so that they can write letters of recommendation, (and that is very important, as you know), but because, if you wish, they will remain your intellectual friends and guides for years to come.
To make my point, let me toss in every cliché: stop to smell the flowers, carpe diem, gather your rosebuds while you may. Emmanuel is not your alma mater yet, but it will be all too soon! I hope you will consider my advice, "not so fast."
Now for those of you who cannot resist thinking ahead just a little bit, let me whisper into your ears the same three words with regard to your immediate future after graduation. NOT SO FAST. Do you really need to rush into seeking a career or go to graduate school right away? You ask, in this economy how can one survive without seeking employment or a fellowship? Yes, I understand, but not so fast.
How about spending one year or two abroad for your own benefit and for the society in which you will be working? Oh I can see the frowns, but let me explain. There are opportunities out there: you can enlist in the Peace Corps, founded by John F. Kennedy in 1961 for people to serve in the developing world in disaster relief, sustainable development, election monitoring, and peace-building. A recent graduate from Emmanuel is currently working in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. She emails me, "It is an amazing experience living in Ukraine now. So many things are happening and the country is really caught in between so many worlds, not really knowing where it wants to settle. Just one of the wonderful opportunities that the Peace Corps allows is that of perspective. She concludes, "See how far an Emmanuel education can take us."
Another graduate from Emmanuel emails me from India where she is working for an NGO or a non-governmental agency fighting HIV/AIDS. She has seen a lot of India, taken on a great deal of responsibility, and finds satisfaction in the work she does.
I have also known students who have worked for the Jesuit Volunteers International that pays college graduates for a two-year experience of direct service with the poor in Belize, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Peru, and Tanzania. You will learn a foreign language quickly, probably be asked to shoulder more responsibility than in any entry-level job you can find at home. When you return, your résumé will be impressive, but more importantly, your experience will serve you for life. And I know from your record, you are hungry for peace and justice in this world. As the old aphorism goes, to whom much is given, much is expected.
Life is indeed a journey. And what better time to embark on a journey abroad: to see, hear, feel and experience new sights? I was lucky enough to live and work in Europe and the former Soviet Union when I was young. Now I am lucky enough to lecture on trips abroad, mostly for elderly people. Believe me, there is a huge difference between being young and engaged in living and working in a foreign country and being a more prosperous older person skimming the surface of a foreign country. I have done both.
If we rush headlong toward our goal, we shall never see the wonderful world around us or experience that which we had never even dreamed of. Why worry about being on the fast track, when the meandering path might teach you skills, acquaint you with people and places, which will give you joy all your life? Who, at the end of a career, ever wished she or he had spent more time at the office? As E. B. White wrote in his children's tale, Stuart Little, "And a person who is looking for something doesn't travel very fast." For those of you who know what you are looking for, and for those of you who are still looking for something to look for, the search itself can be what makes life worthwhile.
So to you seniors, I say, not so fast. Squeeze all you can into your last year at Emmanuel. Not so fast in getting into a settled life. Ulysses says in Tennyson's famous poem,
"Come, my friends
Tis not too late to seek a newer world."
But I would say for you Emmanuel seniors, it is not too early.
October 18th, 2008