Thursday, June 07, 2007

Bursting with Pride

I was bursting with pride today while attending the 128th annual convocation of the University of Manitoba, where my older daughter Brandis received her bachelor of fine arts degree. Few satisfactions can be sweeter than watching one's child achieve something that has required skill, courage and hard work. Surrounded by other parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers, neighbours and friends, who had gathered to celebrate the academic accomplishments of their own loved ones, I was struck by the spirit of community that filled the convocation hall as each of us waited for a particular name to be called out, while sharing in the common joy of all who had gathered. The first tear came to my eye during the processional and I scarcely made it through "O Canada" without my voice cracking. The emotion did not subside until the last of the new graduates had left the hall at the end of the ceremony.

At a time when our society increasingly neglects its rites of passage, I was heartened by the graduates who honoured their families and themselves, while celebrating the value of higher education, by simply showing up. The traditional rituals of the university remind us of the worth of critical thinking and the examined life, the benefits of an educated citizenry and the importance of learning communities, while calling us to apply our talents in ways that advance human knowledge and wisdom. The process theologian Bernard Meland suggested that a society which neglects its passages would succumb to "the blight of mediocrity." There was no mediocrity there today, only the celebration of scholars -- mostly young but many older -- who had reached an important milestone in life.

I have been teasing Brandis about receiving a degree for "doodling," while playfully lamenting that I will probably have to support her as a starving artist until I die. But the truth of the matter is that I envy her artistic ability and I stand in awe of her creativity. More than anything else, I admire her for following her passion, which involves risks that few people have the courage to take and promises rewards that come to those who love their vocation. In September, she will begin the next phase of her studies at the faculty of education, so that she may one day communicate her love of art and learning to young minds who will be as inspired by her example as I have been. For now, I can proudly say that my daughter is an artist. Soon I will be able to add that she is a teacher. These are two of the finest vocations known to humankind -- either one is worth devoting one's life to, so how much grander it is to pursue both!

The most inspiring message during the convocation came from the chancellor of the university, Bill Norrie, who was mayor of Winnipeg from 1979 until 1992. With the quiet dignity and devotion exemplified throughout his public life, Norrie exhorted the graduates to devote their varied gifts to serving the common good in whatever vocations or avocations they pursue. The chancellor closed with a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake:
Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

In this spirit, I hope that my daughter and the other graduates this year are inspired to dream great dreams, sail the open seas rather than clinging to life's harbours, thirst for adventure and, in the process of quenching that thirst, fall in love with life.