President Chabotar’s Charge to the Class of 2009
How best can I charge the Class of 2009?
Many of you know me as Mr. Strategic Planning who gets mesmerized by innumerable future scenarios and impenetrable five-year financial models. Others have met me as your professor. My 17-page syllabus leaves no doubt on future topics and timing and is unquestionably as detailed as the invasion plans for Normandy in World War II. Vice presidents and deans know that career-limiting moves include blindsiding and not dealing with concerns before they become crises.
So given this history, my charge to you this morning may be surprising: Live in the moment.
Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” These words convey the sublime wisdom that there is no sense always fearing tomorrow even at a time of economic distress. If you are confident you will succeed, you probably will. There is also no sense living in the past and obsessing on yesterday except possibly to learn from it. But there is great sense in savoring the joys of today and the power of the present. It is what it is.
How do we screw this up? By words like “I should have done that…..” “I wish this had not happened….” Well you did not do it. It did happen. Get over it. Move on. Forget about “what if” and pay attention to “what is.” Like what is happening now is that you are really graduating. By actions like over-scheduling your time and fixating on “to do” lists. John Lennon wrote that “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” By speculations about what the weather will be like this weekend or how many miles until you get to your destination. Remember tormenting your parents on road trips with “Are we there yet?” Some people are born anxious. My little sister habitually sat down to a tasty supper and asked before eating a morsel “What’s for lunch tomorrow?” Marie still does it, and she’s 51 years old.
How do we get better? I have no silver bullets only a few suggestions.
First, ditch the Blackberries and iPhones, watches and atomic clocks, electronic calendars, Lotus Notes and Google mail, and losing focus and conversation in a frenzy of multi-tasking. There really was an America and there really was a world before you made friends on Facebook, tweeted on twitter, and depended on the internet for constant self-affirmation. Pretend you are a Renaissance artist or poet for whom dreams need have no destinations and creativity has no boundaries. I know exactly what Joyce Grenfell meant when she said: “There’s no such thing as time, only this very minute, and I’m in it.”
Second, take a walk. To paraphrase another college president, Guilford does not have a parking problem. We have a walking problem. Walk to work. Loiter on a park bench. Check out the woods, meadows, and lake. Don’t take for granted the color of azaleas or the scent of roses, the way trees dance with the sun, the thousand points of light in a night sky, and how water lazily meanders in a stream, cascades in a river, or shimmers after a rain shower. People watch. Walk into a new art gallery or old church. A current VISA ad asks, “When was the last time you took your daughter to the Aquarium…on a Tuesday?”
Third, hang out with friends who rejoice in each day the Lord has made, hate drama and unhappiness, and radiate positive energy. Find your own version of what Luke Skywalker discovered as the Force. Avoid people who are caught on the Dark Side of misery and regret. Instead of being mired in gloom like Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Elsinore or Richard III on Bosworth Field, be an eagle like Henry V before Agincourt. Take a lesson from children. Making funny faces, acting silly, and running wild allows them to dwell in the present without guilt and accept life with wonder. Just watch their eyes.
Fourth, lighten up. Quit trying to be insulted or offended. Laugh every chance you get. You don’t have to be Ellen DeGeneres or David Letterman to bring the joy of laughter to others. Remember that Mark Twain also said that “wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”
My best friend in high school epitomized the power of now. Bob surely agreed with Emerson that wisdom consists in finishing the moment, finding the journey’s end in every step of the road, and living the greatest number of good hours. Bob’s joie de vivre was matchless. To him, every day was a gift and even study hall could be an adventure. I think he invented the word “spontaneous.” Before we graduated, Bob was killed in an accident. He’s been gone for 45 years. I have lived not just celebrating his memory but trying to fulfill his legacy of happiness, confidence, and, above all, fun. Above all, fun.
There you have it. The Quakers end meetings with moments of silence. We New England Catholics cannot be that quiet. We like our sounds and songs, our smells and bells. So let me end with a Prayer for the Game of Life by Richard Cardinal Cushing, who was Archbishop of Boston. Boston—the Athens of America, cradle of liberty and the home of invincible Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, and Red Sox.
Dear God, help me be a good sport in the game of life. I don’t ask for an easy place in the lineup. Put me anywhere you need me. I only ask that I can give you 100% of everything I have. If all the hard drives seem to come my way, I thank you for the compliment. Help me to remember that you never send a player more trouble then he can handle with your help….And help me, Lord, to accept the bad breaks as part of the game. May I always play on the square no matter what others do….Finally, God, if the natural turn of events goes against me and I am benched for sickness or old age, help me accept that as a part of the game, too. Keep me from whimpering that I was framed or that I got a raw deal. And when I finish the final inning, I ask for no laurels; all I want is to believe in my heart, I played as well as I could and that I didn’t let you down.
Amen, good-bye, and Godspeed to the Class of 2009. You didn’t let us down either.
May 9, 2009