Washington and Lee University Undergraduate Baccalaureate 2019 featuring Kerry A. Egan ’95

(bells ringing) (band playing) – Good morning, please be seated

We will not need the rain plan today

This is glorious Members of the class of 2019, parents, family members, friends, faculty and staff, welcome you to this baccalaureate service and to the entire series of events that will culminate tomorrow morning with our commencement ceremony After tomorrow, you, our seniors will be graduates of Washington and Lee University, a distinction you will carry with you for the rest of your lives, lives that will be ones of consequence, full of accomplishments that will bring further distinction to you and to your university These are happy days though also strange, they’re full of powerful and mixed emotions The interspersed moments of high formality like our ceremony this morning with precious moments of informality shared with your family and friends There’s inevitably sadness in your leave-takings and you would not be human if you did not feel, at least, some sense of anxiety as you face a future that’s full of promise but necessarily uncertain But let this period also be overflowing with the joy that comes with knowing that you have done well, that you have grown as individuals and become, forever, a member of a very special community There’s an established rhythm to this series of events at Washington and Lee; tomorrow, of course, is a time of great celebration Today is one of reflection and of giving thanks Each of you knows that you would not be here today without the support of your family and friends, without the guidance and encouragement of your faculty, without the support of the staff, without the generations of alumni who’ve come before you and given of their gifts so that you might benefit from the same experience that profoundly shaped their lives We gather for this baccalaureate service It arises from religious traditions of the university which was founded by disciplined, thrifty and strong-willed Scots-Irish Presbyterians They came to this valley in search of freedom from religious constraint and with a desire to fashion a community of hard-working individuals And from that disposition, they created a place of learning that has always been non-sectarian and nondenominational The origins of this day go back to the 18th century and as it was then, it remains a time for us to reflect on how an education shapes the life of an individual For your time here has taught you to share the traits of your education, show the fruits of your education,

to take your life in a direction of service no matter your career and to be mindful of ideals that transcend the self To help us with that theme, I now call upon the members of the university singers under the direction of visiting choral director, Morgan Luttig who will sing The Road Home ♪ Tell me, where is the road ♪ ♪ I can call my own ♪ ♪ That I left, that I lost ♪ ♪ So long ago ♪ ♪ All these years I have wandered ♪ ♪ Oh when will I know ♪ ♪ There’s a way, there’s a road ♪ ♪ That will lead me home ♪ ♪ After wind, after rain ♪ ♪ When the dark is done, ♪ ♪ As I wake from a dream ♪ ♪ In the gold of day ♪ ♪ Through the air there’s a calling ♪ ♪ From far away ♪ ♪ There’s a voice I can hear ♪ ♪ That will lead me home ♪ ♪ Rise up, follow me ♪ ♪ Come away, is the call ♪ ♪ With the love in your heart ♪ ♪ As the only song ♪ ♪ There is no such beauty ♪ ♪ As where you belong ♪ ♪ Rise up, follow me ♪ ♪ I will lead you home ♪ (audience applause) – We’re privileged this morning to hear from the recipients of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallion who were selected by the faculty This is one of the highest awards at the university Washington and Lee presents

the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award to the undergraduate senior man and woman who exhibit Sullivan’s qualities by excelling, in quote, in high ideals of living, in fine spiritual qualities and in generous and disinterested service to others When the institution makes the student award, it appoints the recipient as its representative to bear its standard before the world Earlier today, I had the pleasure of presenting this year’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Medallions to MaKayla Lorick and Jackson Roberts MaKayla from Clinton, Maryland is an English major and a Creative Writing minor who’s taken full advantage of the many varied opportunities that have been available to her at W&L; she’s been an intern with the literary magazine, Shenandoah, a summer research scholar with history professor Ted Delaney and a digital humanities fellow Since last summer, MaKayla has been working on a project funded by the Associated Colleges of the South in collaboration with Center College, Furman University and Rollins College The project’s goal is to create a shared online digital archive relating to the history of desegregation at the collaborating institutions MaKayla’s collected oral histories from African-American alumni, faculty and staff who were here at Washington and Lee in the mid-60s when the university integrated and has also developed a website where her interviews and other materials helped tell the story about that period of our history MaKayla served as a member of the Search Committee for the Dean of the College and was among students who helped evaluate candidates for the director of inclusion and engagement She served as president of both the Student Association for Black Unity and the Tau Zeta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority She’s been a member of the working group on the history of African-Americans at W&L MaKayla won the Emerging Leader of the Year Award in 2016, the John M. Evans English scholarship in 2017 and the Alexander Thomas Boleyn class of 2010 Memorial Award that honors seniors for their campus leadership MaKayla will complete her degree requirements in December and intends to pursue a PhD in English I would be remiss if I didn’t add that MaKayla’s daughter, Zara, may be as well known on campus as MaKayla Jackson from Kansas City, Missouri chose to pursue two majors neuroscience and anthropology that have allowed him to examine who we are as a species from different angles Jackson has worked in biology Professor, Natalia Toporikova’s research laboratory, performing experiments in reproduction and obesity since his first year He also served as a Livesay Research fellow during the summer of 2018 when he constructed a rodent model of diet induced obesity and infertility A Poverty Studies minor, Jackson, had two summer internships with the Shepherd program; one was at a non-profit health clinic in Quito, Ecuador and the other involved promoting cross cultural exchange at a local high school in Puerto Morales, Mexico He’s been a volunteer venture leader for the service trip to Richmond, has participated in the Red Cross Club, including a term as its president and has been a member of the Student Health Committee Since 2015, Jackson has been on the Youth Advisory Board for Plan international, USA, an independent development and humanitarian organization that advances children’s rights and equality for girls Jackson has served a scholarship chair and vice president of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Phi Based on his previous experiences and academic background, Jackson has developed a particular interest in the healthcare experiences of indigenous groups in the Andean region of South America He plans to pursue a medical degree in order to pursue a career in medicine, focused on public health outreach for vulnerable populations I now call upon MaKayla and Jackson to present readings that each of them has chosen to help us celebrate this occasion (audience applause) Good morning. (chuckles) The selection that I’m reading today is one of my favorite books I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont and though it isn’t a canonical work, it’s held with esteem by my two year old daughter who’s memorized the words and finishes every other line when I read it to her in the evenings I like myself, I’m glad I’m me There is no one else I’d rather be I like my eyes, my ears, my nose I like my fingers and my toes I like me wild, I like me tame I like me different and the same I like me fast! I like me slow I like me everywhere I go I like me on the inside too for all I think and say and do,

inside, outside, upside down, from head to toe and all around I like it all It all is me and me is all I want to be And I don’t care in any way what someone else may think or say I maybe called a silly nut or crazy cuckoo bird, so what? I’m having too much fun, you see, for anything to bother me Even when I look a mess, I still don’t like me any less because nothing in this world, you know, can change what’s deep inside and so no matter if they stop and stare, no person ever anywhere can make me feel that what they see is all there really is to me I still like me with fleas or warts or with the silly snout that snorts or knobby knees or hippo hips or purple polka-dotted lips or beaver breath or stinky toes or horns protruding from my nose or, yikes, with spikes all down my spine or hair that’s like a porcupine I still would be the same, you see I like myself because I’m me (audience applause) Though the language in this book, at first glance, appears simple, I found that repeating the words as a nighttime ritual has invoked a sentiment that I believed to be long gone Especially today, I thought it difficult to think of a universal passage because many of our journeys are so incredibly and beautifully different Yet, I believe that if we take this piece of magic and restore a childlike faith in ourselves, this belief will be enough to make it through even when others challenge our identities Thank you (audience applause) – Good morning We are at a point of transition where it can seem that we’re overwhelmingly defined and described by what we do rather than who we are as individuals I have chosen the following excerpt from the invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer to recenter that focus today It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living I wanna know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing It doesn’t interest me how old you are I wanna know if you’ll risk looking like a fool for love for your dream, for the adventure of being alive It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon I wanna know if you’ve touched the center of your own sorrow, if you’ve been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human It doesn’t interest me if the story you’re telling me is true I wanna know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself, if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty every day and if you can source your own life from its presence I want to know if you can live with failure; yours and mine and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here I want to know if you’ll stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments Thank you (audience applause) – Thank you MaKayla and Jackson I now have the honor of introducing our baccalaureate speaker, Kerry Egan A native of Long Island, Kerry Egan graduated magna cum laude in 1995 from Washington and Lee, where she earned honors in religion, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and was a university scholar From W&L, she went to the Harvard Divinity School for her Master of Divinity degree When her father died while she was at Harvard, Kerry took a semester off and made the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrim route through Southern France and Northern Spain She was accompanied on the six-week, 500 mile trek by her then boyfriend, now husband, Alex Russell, a 1994 W&L graduate

Once she returned to Harvard, Kerry’s journey became the basis of her senior thesis which in turn became her first critically acclaimed book; titled Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago That experience was also influential in her decision to choose an internship in chaplaincy at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and then to train in clinical pastoral education and become a hospice chaplain Kerry has described her work with dying patients as witnessing, quote, the spiritual work of dying, the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life She’s lectured and written extensively about her experience as a chaplain at a Massachusetts hospice In 2012, she wrote an essay about death and dying for CNN that drew more than 3,000 comments in just 24 hours Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest and Parents, among other publications She’s been featured on PBS Newshour, NPR’s fresh air with Terry Gross and CNN’s Morning Edition Her second book on living which was published in 2016 relates some of the stories that Kerry has heard from her patients, stories that as she writes, quote, patients had turned over in their minds like rosary beads and worn Bibles, they turned over in their hands The book has been praised as quote, wise, without being preachy, warm without being cloying A former Aspen Words Writer in Residence at the Aspen Institute and the 2019, Hannah Judy Gretz fellow at the Ragdale Foundation Kerry has compared being a hospice chaplain and a writer as two sides of a coin; a chaplain is a story holder, the writer is a storyteller Kerry is joined today by Alex, her husband, and their two children, Jimmy and Mary We’re delighted that they are here Please join me now in welcoming Kerry Egan back to her alma mater (audience applause) – Thank you President Dudley And to you, all the graduates, congratulations You are so beautiful, when I was walking through I was overwhelmed And beautiful is the word, not handsome, not pretty but just beautiful in the morning and it was an honor to get to walk through your gauntlet, I guess I don’t know what you would call that And I am a day early but I want to welcome you, maybe I’m the first, to the ranks of Washington and Lee alumni I remember sitting at my baccalaureate and never, in a million years, would I ever have thought I would be back to speak at another And when I graduated, not to make you jealous but we had all of the ceremonies over by the Lee House and so we were in the shade And (chuckles) I remember vividly, I remember walking down the colonnade I remember the trees up above, I remember looking up and looking at the leaves, I remember the champagne bottles popping, feel free, if you have brought any, you will not offend me but the fact is I remember very little of what anybody said over those two days and when I was invited to come here, I was a little bothered by that so I asked a bunch of friends, what do you remember from the graduation speeches? And actually, basically, nobody remembered anything So this is actually very liberating in some ways At first, I was demoralized, I was like huh, well, what am I even doing? But now I realize it’s fine because no matter what I say, there’s a good chance you’re going to remember the experience and not actually the words I actually have spent a lot of time thinking about memory and remembering and what people do and don’t remember because I work as a hospice chaplain And what I tell people what we do as a hospice chaplain, we do spiritual care and counseling for people who are dying at the end of life but what it really means, boots on the ground, what you actually do as a hospice chaplain is you listen to usually very old people tell stories from when they were young That’s mostly what you do If you were to say, what are you actually doing most of the day when you’re at work? You’re listening to people remember when they were younger, that’s what you’re doing And the reason that people who are dying tell stories is because that’s what they remember They remember stories They don’t remember lectures

so while I have this opportunity, I have this really, and the parents here will appreciate this, this golden opportunity, my two children are sitting over there, they are hostages They are 12 and 14, I can lecture them as much as I want for 20 minutes which I don’t usually get to do I’m not actually going to do that because I know you won’t remember a lecture but you might, you might, remember a story So I’m going to tell a story of a patient named Gloria That’s not her real name, but we’ll call her Gloria Gloria lived in South Carolina She was, I don’t know, maybe in her 70s And I had been seeing her at that point for several months Sometimes people are on hospice for just days but sometimes people are on hospice service for months and she was someone that I really got to know because I got to see her every two weeks for months and I loved her, I loved this woman When I went in to visit her one day and she said listen, “I have to ask you to do something for me.” And I said okay And she goes, “Do you promise you’ll do it?” I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll do it “What is it?” She said, “Okay, I need to tell you a story first.” I said okay And she changed, she was a very jolly person And she was not jolly when she started to tell this story She got very serious and she said, “When I was 21, I got pregnant “and it was my best friend’s boyfriend “and they had broken up and he invited me out for a drive “and by the time I figured out I was pregnant, “they had gotten back together “and now they were engaged “And I didn’t feel like I could tell her, “I didn’t feel like I could tell her.” Now this was back in the 1960s in South Carolina and she said, “I didn’t know where to go “to end the pregnancy and I was afraid to do it myself “And I was trapped, I was stuck “So I went and I told my parents, “I told my parents I was pregnant “And I thought my father was going to kill me.” She said, “I really thought he was going to kill me “but they didn’t kill me “They sent me off to Charleston, “to a home in Charleston for pregnant girls “and I lost my job and I couldn’t tell anybody “where I had gone; it was a big secret “And I went and I lived there for six months “and six months later, I had my baby “It was a little boy and I didn’t even see him “I didn’t see him, I didn’t touch him, “I didn’t hold him “I gave him up because that’s what I had to do “because back then, girls like me, “girls who got pregnant and we weren’t married, “we were garbage and I didn’t want to be garbage “So I gave up my baby.” She said but then, “I got home, I got home “and two days later, I woke up and I couldn’t breathe “and I realized I had made the biggest mistake “of my entire life “I had to get my baby back “I knew with every cell in my body, “I had made a horrible mistake and I needed to fix this “I called my best friend’s,” maybe husband now, I don’t remember, maybe still fiance, “and he wouldn’t help me “I told my parents I wanted to bring the baby home “and they kicked me out of the house “So I had nowhere to live, I had no job, “I had nowhere to live and I finally went to my grandmother “and she said yes, you can come and you can live with me “So I called the home, I called the home in Charleston “and I said I changed my mind, I want my son back.” And they said, “You can’t have your baby back.” But she said, “What do you mean?” And they said, “Listen, if you want your baby back, “you need to pay for it “That’s what anybody who comes here “and adopts a baby does, they pay “You have to pay for your room and board “for the six months you lived here “You have to pay for all the doctor visits “You have to pay for the nurse who’s been caring “for your son for the past two days and all the formula “Listen, if you want to adopt your own baby back, “you need to pay for that baby, that’s just how it is.” So she said okay So she took all the money she had in savings She had been working, she was like high school graduate, she’d been working for a couple years She still lived at her parents’, well, she was homeless now She took all her savings, she sold her car She sold all of her clothing except, she was very specific about this, except for one dress and one pair of stockings and one pair of shoes She sold her record player and all her records, she sold her jewelry and she sold her hair curlers which was a big deal, it seemed, for her in the 1960s

to sell her curlers and she finally had enough money So she and her grandmother drove to Charleston to get the baby back and when they got there, they told the social worker what they wanted to do And the social worker said, “Listen to me, “this is the worst thing you can do “Do not do this “You have no husband, you have no job, “you have no home “This is the worst thing you can do to your child “Do not take this baby back.” And she said, “But I knew, I knew I had to do it “And I was shaking, I couldn’t even speak “I was so frightened I just pushed the money across the desk “and finally the social worker said fine, “if this is what you really wanna do.” Two minutes later the social worker came back holding the baby and Gloria’s grandmother stood up as any grandmother, I guess great-grandmother, in this case, and she went over to hold the baby And the social worker was holding it and she said, “No, no! “That’s not how this is going to happen.” And Gloria started to cry and she thought I have given up everything, I have given up my family, I have given up my money, I have given up my job, my home I have given up everything in this world because I think this is the right thing to do and now I can see this baby, at the last moment, it’s gonna be taken away from me And she started to cry And the social worker walked over to Gloria and said, “You are his mother, you get to hold him, “not your grandmother and she put the baby in her arms.” And then she said, “Listen to me, “if you love this baby like this your whole life, “it’ll be okay “You’ll find a way through.” So Gloria finished telling the story and then she turned to me and said, “So I need you to call my son “and tell him his father isn’t really his father “because he doesn’t know that “And here’s his phone number “I wrote it down for you on a piece of paper “You go ahead and just pull out your cell phone “and I’ll sit here and I’ll watch you do this.” And I said, “No, no, I can’t do that!” And she goes, “You promised.” And I had, I had promised, that was the problem I had promised and I said, “Listen, Gloria, listen “If I call some man I have never even met and said hi, “I’m the hospice chaplain,” which already, the hospice chaplain, it’s like the Grim Reaper For most people, that’s what you think when you hear of a hospice chaplain “If I call him up and say hey, I’m the hospice chaplain “and by the way, your father isn’t really your father “Your mom just wants you to know before she dies “That would be terrible, that would be a shock “I can’t do that.” And in the telling of the story now, 50 years later, she said, “Listen, I haven’t told anybody this “The only people who know this were the people “who were there at the time “I can’t tell him now.” And I said, “Okay, let’s go over why you can’t tell him “You want him to know but you can’t tell him “What’s going on here?” And it took a while and finally, she was able to say, she was able to recognize in herself the reason And she said, “What if the greatest thing I ever did was “actually not a good thing at all? “What if he wishes I had not gone back for him?” Because they had had a hard life, they were very poor “What if he wishes some other family had adopted him? “What if I was wrong? “What if the thing I am most proud of, “the best thing I ever did in life turns out “to have not been a good thing at all? “I can’t live with that, I can’t.” So over time, I would come and I would ask Gloria because I knew, I don’t know much in life, I know less and less by the day, I feel like but I, at least, know this; that in a situation like this, what she needed to do was to tell that story to herself over and over and over again because that’s how we make meaning That’s how anybody makes meaning and that’s really what a chaplain does We actually help people make meaning of the things in life that they cannot find meaning in Finally, one day, she said, “I was thinking, you could tell my son “I could get him over here “and I could sit next to you on the couch.” And I said, “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea “We might could do that.” She said, “Yeah, that’d be good.” A couple weeks later, she tells the story again and again and then she says, “I’ve been thinking, “I think I could tell my son

“You sit next to me on the couch and I’ll tell him “and we’ll hold hands but I’ll tell him.” I said, “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea “How about we could do that.” And then a couple weeks after that, I went to visit and she said, “I told my son this weekend.” And I said, “How did it go?” And she started to laugh and then cry So you might be wondering what in the world does this story of a young woman in the 1960s, what does it have to do with you, if anything? Well, I tell the story of Gloria, a lot, for two reasons; one, she made me promise She actually made me promise I would tell as many people as I could That’s why I ended up writing a book actually And secondly, because I think the story of Gloria actually has a million lessons, a million lessons for all of us embedded within it You will be faced someday with a decision like Gloria’s It may not be about an unwanted pregnancy but there will be a time and it might be soon or you might be going through it or you might have already gone through it but there will be a time in your life when you are faced with an overwhelmingly difficult decision and it might not be clear to you what to do By the way, I should say, if you were expecting a baccalaureate speech that was gonna tell you to go out and conquer the world and be your best self, this is not it Somebody else could probably give that speech a lot better than I could This is gonna be a different sort of baccalaureate speech There’s going to be a time you need to make a decision and I know this, I know this for a fact that this will happen to all of you, not just the graduates but everybody here And I’d actually know, I can look out there and I know that a lot of you already have done it, you’ve already done it but I know it will happen because nobody, at the end of life, and hundreds of people, maybe thousands of people I’ve talked to, nobody has ever said, nothing really happened It was really easy, it was great, I just sailed right through, I was totally prepared Nobody has ever said that, not once We don’t know what’s coming in life Nobody does You can’t so just give that up now Give that up Some of you might have everything mapped out and some of you might be floundering Some of you might have no idea what comes next Just know that your plans for your life will change if you’ve made them and if you haven’t made yet your plans, if you are sitting here overwhelmed and have no idea what comes next, you should know too that the plans will coalesce, it will happen I don’t know, by some sort of magic, your life will come together But no one, no one at the age of 21 and 22, no one at the age, quite frankly of 46, no one is ever completely prepared for life You are not, however, completely unprepared Whatever difficult and wonderful and joyful and overwhelming things await you, you actually have tools, you have tools from your time here at Washington and Lee You have really good tools actually You’ve really good tools to get through life And I’m not talking, again, I’m not talking about career and job I’m talking about the being rather than the doing, like the earlier speakers talked about You have really good tools for how to be in the world Having gone to Washington and Lee myself, I was thinking about what helped me the most And first, I would say, and this is like the old chestnut It’s probably obvious but not maybe for the reasons you think The first is the honor code, actually The first is the honor code You’ve lived by it for four years and it’s a moral code and the fact is it’s not enough It’s not enough of a moral code It’s pretty lean, it’s not going to be enough in life to help you get through all the really difficult I’m not lauding it up as the honor code should be your moral compass but what the honor code has done for you, you’ll need to deepen it As you go through life, it’s going to need to be broadened and deepened and enriched as you develop an inner compass for how to get through life But what it has done for you is that you have practiced for four years, you’ve practiced having a moral code, an internal compass and a lot of people at your age have not done that and that practice, it’s the practice that will be one of the most important things that you use because someday, when you have an impossible decision

like Gloria, when you are in a situation where you believe you know the right thing and the world around you, the culture at large is telling you that you will be garbage, literally, that’s what she was told that you will ruin someone’s life if you do the right thing, when you are faced with a decision like that, I know the right thing and everybody around me is telling me something else, that will happen to you And you have already had four years of practice of using an internal, an internal sense of who you are and what you need to do Second tool, so you have that, you have that practice Secondly, you have a liberal education You have all those classes you were forced to take in subject areas that held no interest for you And what have those classes done? What has this education done? It’s given you tools in your spiritual toolbox So this term, the spiritual toolbox, as a writer, I hate it, it’s really ugly and it’s clunky It’s completely inelegant but as a chaplain, it’s so good because it does job, it does the job People have a sense, right away, of what that is So the spiritual toolbox is the million ways in which people who are working to make meaning of their lives do so We’re meaning making creatures, starting the moment we’re born And the tools in the spiritual toolbox, the two biggest, the ones everyone thinks of are religion and faith, they’re different, of course, the faith you have, religious traditions in which you were brought up or that you choose to embrace and there are excellent tools but they’re not the only ones, there probably not enough, frankly You see that as a chaplain They’re not enough to do all the work of meaning-making that people do at the end of life Equally important are art, literature, travel, friends and family; friends and family are really important I once had a patient who was a mathematician And he had no belief in God or any sort of transcendent other at all I don’t actually think he had any sense of transcendence I think he would have maybe laughed at that but what he had and he was dying young and he struggled with his own death And what he had eventually was he had mathematics He had math, he had the laws of math I am not a mathematician, not even close I can’t even help my children with their math homework anymore, it’s too advanced for me But listening to him talk about the laws of mathematics as this eternal, beautiful never-ending reality that there’s something real and true and good that had existed in the universe, mathematics, the laws, I don’t know if the laws, just math, I guess But it existed whether or not anybody knew about it, whether or not anybody believed and it didn’t matter that there was order, there was order and there was structure and he believed there was goodness in the world because he had math Now that’s a spiritual tool, it’s not mine It may not be most people’s but that was what he used, that was what he used to create a sense of meaning in his own life So hold on to the lessons you’ve learned here in all those classes; in math class and history, the ideas you learned in philosophy or religion Tuck away the snippets of poetry that you liked, that you had to read in English or the passages you translated in Spanish One of the most important things for me when I was here, I took an astronomy class which I was definitely tricked into that one, I thought I was gonna be like lying on the grass looking at the stars It’s mostly a math class which I already told you how I feel about math, which is to say I’m not good at it but we had lab at night and there used to be an observatory, I found out yesterday, I think it’s gone, I think the observatory is gone, it used to be back, there was no Science Center back then, it was just a building and we used to go up there in the middle of the night depending on what time the professor decided lab was, maybe 3:30 in the morning, now those were awful And you would go up there and they had telescopes and I remember the first time I saw the rings of Saturn through the telescope and that overwhelming sense of just awe, like Saturn really has rings, it really does It’s not just in pictures and there it is, I’m looking at it That sense of awe, that sense of wonder Those are actually really, those are the building blocks Those are the building blocks of an internal life of a spiritual life, of a life in which you can make meaning of the things that happen to you So hold on to them Whatever they are, they’re gonna be different for every person And keep building that toolbox,

keep reading novels, go to museums, look at art, listen to music, make music, make art if you can, nurture your friendships and your family relationships Find the things that bring you joy, that fill you up So what do you use the toolbox for? Well, so you remember Gloria’s story This is what always is amazing to me that she was able to do this really remarkably difficult thing when she was 21 years old, she was your age, and she literally gave up everything she had to make this one right decision It was momentous and to think about the time and the place in which she did it, it’s hard to overstate how radical, how radical she was Now, she would laugh, she would have laughed if she ever heard me call her a radical person but it was, it was a radical decision, it was a radical action It was a radical action to follow her conscience She was able to do this at 21 but she was not able to talk about it for 50 years That’s remarkable, to be able to do something but not even be able to talk about it for that length of time So the question becomes, why, all of a sudden, at the end of her life, was she suddenly able to tell me, did she suddenly wanna tell her son? And the fact is, it actually wasn’t sudden She had been preparing her whole life for this conversation She had been building that toolbox with the different experiences she had and the way she filled her life And then she did the third important thing that you have gotten here She remembered, she remembered that story and she told it and then she remembered it more and the more she told it, the more she remembered, the more details she remembered She was able to make connections between those details She was able to make connections between that story in her life and other experiences in her life And this is key because it’s in remembering the past that we create hope for the future That’s why hospice patients like Gloria spend so much time remembering Remembering is actually how we generate hope It’s how anybody does it So remembering times when you experienced God and I know not everybody here believes in God, that’s okay but an experience of God an experience of goodness, an experience of wonder, an experience of peace, an experience of courage or strength that you didn’t know you had, remembering any of those experiences allows us to imagine the possibility that those things can exist in the future Our hope for the future is grounded in our memory of the past You have spent your young college years in a place steeped in the past, a difficult past, there’s no getting around it I went to school here too Some might even say this school is obsessed with the past And yet W&L’s motto is not unmindful of the future And I think that’s because somewhere, that makes a lot of sense Somewhere we know that That is in holding on to the past and remembering the past and exploring it, exploring all good and all the difficult aspects of our own personal pasts that we are able to create a vision for the future That’s where it has to come from, at least in my experience in spiritual work, that’s where it comes from And it’s not only remembering happy things that give us hope for the future Very often, the greatest sense of hope for the future comes from remembering very difficult things and it comes from remembering the strength we had in the midst of those difficult things It comes from remembering the help we got in the midst of those difficult things It’s not entirely true that I don’t remember anything from the speeches given when I graduated Actually, I remember one line and it was John Elrod who gave the baccalaureate that year and you might know John Elrod as a extremely posh Student Center, posh to me, we had nothing like that But I knew him as a very kind philosophy professor, exceedingly kind and he was exceedingly kind in a department, that whole department was filled with exceedingly kind professors In the baccalaureate that year,

he said the one line I remember To those who much is given, much is expected It’s from the Gospel of Luke, I didn’t know that at the time, that’s where it comes from To those whom much is given, much is expected I remember this line because I was completely intimidated by it I had nothing to give, I thought, sitting there where you’re sitting now I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I could never in a million years have imagined I would have been asked back to speak here because when I graduated, when I have sitting in your seats, I was not going off to a great career, I was not going off on an exciting fellowship somewhere around the world I was not going off to do anything I was going to move home because my father was dying and I thought I could move home and, I don’t know what I thought, I thought somehow I would help the situation No, I didn’t but that’s what I thought I would do I went home to my parents’ house and I got a job as a waitress And the fact is I actually loved being a waitress like it’s still one of my favorite jobs ever But I felt like a failure I felt like a failure This morning, I’m staying in the Morris House, which, fancy, never thought I’d get to stay there And I went downstairs And I don’t know if any of you know Barb but she is the director of special events here but when I went to school here, she was in charge of catering and listen, I don’t wanna tell you all what to do but you look really hot, try unzipping your robes, I’m not actually even kidding about this Don’t do it because I tell you to but you can do that You have agency to do that You can take your hats off, you can do whatever you want I’m serious, you’re grownups now, you’re adults now You can do that But I saw Barb down there this morning and it was so good to see her, it was so good to see her and the fact is I learned how to be a waitress here at Washington and Lee I didn’t really think of that until this morning, sometimes we don’t know from where our help will come There’s another little piece, I’ll throw it, now I’m gonna tell you there’s five pieces of advice So we’re gonna be four, now there’s five Be open to help Don’t assume you’re gonna know from whence your help comes From whence does my help come, it comes from the Lord, but you know how the Lord works? Through people, be open, be open to the help that’s given to you It never occurred to me that, until I talked to Barb this morning, she’s the one who trained me to be a waitress And I think about, with Gloria, this is my favorite part of the story I wasn’t gonna put it in the speech but now I am When I was talking to her, she had all these, this is only one of her story, she had lots of great stories and she said to me one day, “I always wanted to meet a writer “and I would just tell him my stories, “I would just give him my stories and say, here, “you tell all these stories for everybody else.” And specifically she wanted to meet Pat Conroy because we live in South Carolina, who else was gonna meet her, somehow, and tell her stories and write novels about her? Pat Conroy, and she said and I really, really thought it was gonna happen I used to pray and pray that I would meet a writer and I would tell the writer my stories but it never happened and I’m sitting there and I’m there as a chaplain, I’m not there as a writer And she goes, “I guess some prayers never get answered.” And finally I thought, well, geez, maybe I should tell her And I said, “Gloria, did I ever tell you I wrote a book?” She was like, “You?” And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, me.” She was like, “A real book?” And I was like, “Yes, a real book.” She still doesn’t believe me, she’s like, “Published?” And I was like, “Yes, published and everything.” And then she goes, “Well, Kerry, this is the answer “I’ve already told you all my stories “You just need to go write them down.” And then she looks up, (chuckles) I swear she looks up and she goes, “Jesus, I thought you were gonna send me a man!” (Kerry laughing) So be open to where the help comes from Sometimes you might not even recognize it You might not even recognize what someone has given you until years later So Barb out there, I don’t even know if you’re standing here on the lawn, thank you

Thank you for that because I loved being a waitress and that’s what I did That’s what I did while my dad was dying But I felt like a failure There’s no getting around it If much was expected of me, I didn’t think I was doing that What I realize now is that I completely misunderstood that quote The failure was in understanding I thought that the much that was expected of me had to be important and prestigious and impressive I thought that that’s what that meant I knew much had been give to me but I thought the much expected was something that was going to impress other people I thought that’s what that meant, for a long time And what I learned from my hospice patients is that this is not the case That is not what you need to do to give much to the world Being impressive is not how you change the world I will tell you what I learned from being a hospice chaplain from talking to people who were dying and maybe it will help you, people at the end of their lives, maybe it will help you at the beginning of your lives, maybe not, maybe you won’t remember any of this, that’s fine too But if you want to give much to the world, here’s how you do it; you give a little bit 1000 times a day, every single day to every person you meet That is how you give much to the world If you wish there was more kindness in the world, be kinder, boom, you’ve just made the world more kind If you want the world to be a better place, be better to the people around you And someday, right now, that might be your friends and your family and someday, some of you might go on to do really good and impressive things and when that happens, be better to the people who work for you Be better to the waitresses you meet in a restaurant You won’t believe how much abuse waitresses get and a lot of people who ever worked in retail tell me the same thing, but just be better, be kinder, that’s how you give much to the world Every person is capable of doing it Does not require prestige in the least It’s almost laughably simple but it’s the truth The great American essayist, Annie Dillard wrote how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives What we do with this hour is what we are doing At the end of their lives, when people talk about the things that are of the most importance to them, the most importance, the rubber has hit the road; this is the time, we’ve got to do it, if it’s gonna be done, people who are dying know they don’t have any time left, very little time left So what do they talk about? They talk about how other people treated them and they talk about how they treated other people They talk about their relationships In the final examination of their lives, it was the quality of the relationships they created that mattered I know this might be a bittersweet time for some of you, preparing to leave W&L For some of you, you might be really happy, can’t wait to get out I wanna assure you of something that you cannot possibly know but it’s this, the best part of attending Washington and Lee is not being a Washington and Lee’s student It’s being a Washington and Lee alumna The best days of your life as part of the Washington and Lee community are actually ahead of you and I know that might be hard to believe but it’s true They are not behind you Look around you at the people you are sitting with, whatever divisions have kept you from knowing each other, they do not serve you anymore You need to let them go So these, I think are the five, I have to change that, five most valuable things; the gifts you can take from Washington and Lee: a moral compass, a spiritual toolbox, a mechanism for generating hope, an understanding that help can come from any quarter and a community

I hope you treasure them I hope you use them every day Henri Nouwen, the Dutch theologian said that to give someone a blessing is simply to remind them of who they really are I will end by giving you a blessing and if there’s anything you remember from today, you might not, but if there is anything, I actually hope this is what you remember May you be joyful for the much you have been given and may you be confident that no matter who you are you have much to give the world I am proud of you and I am grateful that you are now part of my community Congratulations (audience applause) – Thank you, Kerry We will now, once again, here from the university singers ♪ Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you ♪ ♪ And hear your rolling river ♪ ♪ Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you ♪ ♪ Way, we’re bound away ♪ ♪ Across the wide Missouri ♪ ♪ I long to see your smiling valley ♪ ♪ And hear your rolling river ♪ ♪ I long to see your smiling valley ♪ ♪ Way, we’re bound away ♪ ♪ Across the wide Missouri ♪ ♪ ‘Tis seven long years since last I’ve seen you ♪ ♪ And hear your rolling river ♪ ♪ ‘Tis seven long years since last I’ve seen you ♪ ♪ Way, we’re bound away ♪ ♪ Across the wide Missouri ♪

♪ Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you ♪ ♪ And hear your rolling river ♪ ♪ Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you ♪ ♪ Way, we’re bound away ♪ ♪ Across the wide Missouri ♪ ♪ Oh Shenandoah ♪ ♪ Missouri ♪ ♪ Shenandoah ♪ ♪ Oh Shenandoah, oh ♪ ♪ Shenandoah ♪ ♪ Oh Shenandoah, oh ♪ (audience applause) – Thank you to the University singers and their director, Morgan Luttig, for their meaningful contributions to our ceremony this morning Their work is not yet done In a moment, they’ll lead us in the W&L hymn but before they do, let me wish all of you an enjoyable 24 hours, your last 24 hours as students at Washington and Lee Let it be among the most meaningful of your time together and now would you all please rise as we hear the W&L hymn ♪ In the shadows of white columns, ♪ ♪ We stop to hear the chimes. ♪ ♪ Worn steps on which we linger ♪ ♪ Slowly yield to time ♪ ♪ But when we doubt our future’s course ♪ ♪ Our honor sets us free ♪ ♪ A timeless trust in our Alma Mater, ♪ ♪ Washington and Lee ♪ ♪ As the bells ring out the hour ♪ ♪ And echo through the halls ♪ ♪ We sense in this brief moment ♪ ♪ The strength within these walls ♪ ♪ But when we doubt our future’s course ♪ ♪ Our honor sets us free ♪ ♪ A timeless trust in our Alma Mater, ♪ ♪ Washington and Lee ♪ (audience applause) – Please join us for lunch on Cannon Green, and if you wish, at the reception at Lee House afterwards We reconvene tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. for commencement We are now adjourned Thank you (audience applause)