“Everyday you have less reason not to give yourself away”: A Seattle School commencement address

I had the great honor of being chosen to speak at my school’s commencement ceremony.  The following is the speech that I gave:

Commencement Speech
The Seattle School ~ June 23, 2012

Today is an odd sort of day.  It is a day in which we rejoice, celebrate, and give thanks for this place, these people, this wild life we lead.  And it is also a day in which we grieve, weep, and lament this same place, these same people, this same wild life.  It is a day marking both the necessity of looking back to the paths that have led us to this place and looking forward for the paths that will lead us away.

Wendell Berry, one of my favorite authors and poets, has a stunning poem entitled “There Is No Going Back” that I would like to share with you.  He writes,

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are that possibility you were.
More and more you have become those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave containing much that was and is
no more in time, beloved then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be generous toward each day that comes, young, to          

disappear forever, and yet remain unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason not to give yourself away.

I love that line: “More and more you have become those lives and deaths that have belonged to you.”  What are those lives and deaths that have belonged to you in this season?  What are those things you’ve had to say “no” to, let go of, leave behind to able to stand in this place today?  This community has led me to say “no” to the shame that i’ve felt about myself, “no” to the self-doubt and silence I often feel as a woman in this world, “no” to the voices that pull me away from my vocation and calling, “no” to the illusions of numbness and control in my relationship with others and with the Father, Son & Spirit.

For many of us, those lives and deaths also included saying “no” to the myths we’ve been told by our cultures, our churches, our families.  It has included saying “no” to the injustices we’ve seen, experienced, and participated in.  It has included saying “no” to theologies and ideologies that scare us or make us angry. Sometimes it has included saying “no” to things that are good for us and essential parts of who we are — at times we’ve “no” our desires, our intuitions, our dreams.

And what are the things you have said “yes” to, embraced, and carried close to your heart in this place?  Sometimes these things are hard to identify because they are not necessarily free of pain, difficulty, or grief.

In this place, I’ve said “yes” to the tenderness inside of me, even though it is so vulnerable to embrace.  I’ve said “yes” to relationship and community, with all the complexities of what those words mean for me.  We’ve all said “yes” to holding onto the fierce, soul churning hope that what is in front of us is good and beautiful and that there is more to life than what we see in front of us.

Perhaps most importantly, we’ve said “yes” to a commitment to be who we are–passionate and faithful people–who have labored these last few years not only for our own sake, but for the sake of the world.  This commitment has been costly, containing all of our “no’s” and all of our “yes’s,” all the lives and deaths that have belonged to us.  And it is not a commitment that has been fulfilled today or that is ending today; rather today marks our entering more deeply into this mission as people who have become those lives and deaths that have belonged to us.  May we, as brother Wendell implores us, be generous toward our days, knowing that “every day we have less reason not to give ourselves away.”