Below is the message I gave this morning for Salem Academy Baccalaureate…
It is such an honor to be here with you today, in this beautiful setting of the May Dell. It is wonderful to look at the faces of our seniors before me, and to know how strong, creative, brilliant, kind, and compassionate all of you are. None of us could have imagined a time like these past 15 months, and yet here you are – having accomplished more than anyone could have expected, under the most challenging circumstances. You have not only done your academic work – you have continued to do all the wonderful extra-curricular things that really make Salem Academy special.
Our clubs are strong and healthy.
Our plays are vibrant and creative.
Our younger students have been mentored and cared for.
You have created mutual forms of support, lifting each other up on difficult days.
And – you have even offered support and kind words for those of us who are fortunate enough to work here – and on behalf of all of us, thank you!
Now the traditional Baccalaureate message normally talks about accomplishments, and success, and how to be even more successful when one goes off to the greater world.
This morning, I’d like to reflect on what “success” truly is. I remember back in ancient times, when I was in high school – we had senior superlatives – and they were the superficial things from the 1980s than any John Hughes movie could highlight more fully.
I did very well academically in high school – was a leader in various clubs – very active in my church and the community – in short, I did all the things one needed to do to be successful. And the one thing I really wanted was to get the Senior Superlative for “Most Likely to Succeed.”
Now I am certain all of you can guess how this great desire of mine ended. I lost out to a rather quiet young woman whose brother had won “Most Likely to Succeed” a couple years previously. And yes – I was bitter. And I was so immature that when I ran into her 7 years later, as I was finishing a Masters at Duke and had a good job waiting on me – I remember smugly thinking “I’m more successful than she is.”
I am not proud of that!
I hope and pray that all of you are more mature and grounded that I was at age 18 or age 25. In fact, I know you are!
I bought into what society told me success was –
A big name school
A “good” job
Connections with important people
Having influence in the world
Receiving awards & accolades
Having the appearance of someone who had power and “had it all together”
Now I am not standing here before you saying that any of these things are bad – not at all – but what I am saying is that if we strive for these things because we believe that is what society expects of us – then we have lost sight of what it truly means to be successful.
One good thing that has come about the past 15 months is that many people are rethinking how they want to live in the world – what success means for them. Does it mean spending most our time on things that really do not have value? Does it mean filling our homes with possessions? Does it mean that we are so focused on how we appear in the world, that we rarely connect to others in deep, meaningful ways?
All of us have dealt with real trauma in the last 15 months – and in a variety of ways. The pandemic, growing awareness of racial injustice, mass divisions in our country, economic challenges, growing environmental devastation, isolation, loneliness, grief…
What is the best way for us to live in this world? Especially in the midst of such challenges?
The most important thing for any of us is connection.
Connection to our deepest selves – who we truly are and we who want to be
Connection to each other – our closest circle of loved ones, others in our society and the world
Connection to creation – to the gift of nature around us – the very ground of our being
To be successful means that we are connected.
Now all of you have done a fair amount of mindfulness activities with me during your time at Salem. The core of a mindful practice is to be connected to ourselves, to others, and to creation.
One of the true gifts of Salem Academy is the connection each of you has to each other. Sophie very graciously sang an old song I requested for today – Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Now I know that many of you heard that and thought, “Wow – that’s the Gilmore Girls theme.”
Yes,it is – but many years before that – it was a thought-provoking song from the 1970s about what it means to be a friend.
What it means to be connected to another person – when you are down and troubled, a true friend is there with you, brightening up even the darkest night.
Our sacred readings which Emma read for us today all focus on connection – how we are connected to another.
We are to love one another as we love ourselves. And please note that says we can’t truly love others unless we love ourselves first.
We are to be in community with others with kindness, compassion, a humility of spirit, an understanding heart.
Now – this isn’t always easy – and sometimes it’s really hard. And on those days when it’s not easy to be in community with others – even those we truly love – then it’s time to work more on loving ourselves and be connected to the most important part of ourselves – so that we can love others.
So – for this Baccalaureate message today, I wish each one of you success. And not success as the world defines it – but success as the deep spirit of the world defines it.
I wish for each of you continued deep friendships and love.
I wish for each of you compassion and wisdom.
I wish for each of you the deepest of connection – to yourselves, to creation, and to others.
I’d like to end this message by asking our seniors to come forward to the table up front in just a moment. You will notice there is a big pottery bowl with small rocks there. They come from the grounds of Salem, right here at the May Dell in fact. And I want you to take one rock – to take it from this home of Salem – and to carry it with you as you go around the globe to the various places you are heading.
When you look at this rock – remember these things –
You are always connected to your Salem family
You are connected to creation, and the very literal ground of this institution
You are connected to your own inner being, and you are as strong as the rock you hold.