President Tori Murden McClure (Photo: Lightspeed Productions)
Spalding University held its annual Commencement ceremonies June 2-4, 2022, with President Tori Murden McClure delivering an address to the graduates. Her speech also included her annual list of maxims titled, “10 Things That I Think I Know.” Here are her full remarks:
There are many lies traditionally told on commencement day. One such lie is, “This is your day.” This is not your day. The evening may belong to you, but the day belongs to those who raised you, and to those who have supported you. It marks and end, not to your suffering, but to their suffering.
It is a day that some thought they might never see. Shortly, you will move your tassel from right to left, and you will leave. Those who helped you through the corridors of Spalding University will cheer. It is not that we do not love you. We do. But, we need no longer worry about whether you will pass your last exam. No more listening to you whine about the heftiness of your many assignments. No more pretending to be interested in your esoteric wanderings along the existential plains of academic syllabi.
This day belongs not just to you, but to all those who helped you reach this goal. Their gentle smiles hide deeper emotions. For some the sense of relief must border on hysteria. This hysteria may exhibit itself in the flash of cameras and in bragging about your accomplishments in unnaturally loud voices. Share the joy of this day with your friends and families. We all could use a little more joy in our lives.
We are in the Columbia Auditorium. This building holds a special place in my heart. In 1954, a twelve-year-old boy rode his red bicycle to this building. He was upstairs eating hotdogs and popcorn when someone stole his bicycle. The boy was distraught as he reported the crime to a police officer who taught boxing downstairs in the basement. The boy was named Cassius Clay. He began his boxing career downstairs. The world would come to know him as Muhammad Ali. The red bicycle over the front door of this building is our tribute to Muhammad Ali.
Muhammad touched billions of lives. He touched Spalding University, one of his first jobs was working in our library, and Muhammad touched my life.
In 1998, I failed to row a boat alone across the Atlantic Ocean. Not long after that failure, I went to work for Muhammad Ali. When he knew I was ready Muhammad said, “You don’t want to go through life as the woman who almost rowed across the ocean.” In 1999, I went back and I succeeded in rowing a boat alone across the Atlantic Ocean.
During that successful journey, I had a run-in with a hurricane named Lenny. At the height of that storm, I went out on deck to pick a fight with God. “If you put this in my path to do, why are you making it so difficult?” That was not an easy time, and this … right now … is not an easy time.
I agree with Adrienne Maree Brown when she wrote:
“Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”
Graduates, it does not take an education to see pain, but it takes an education to do something about that pain. As you reenter the broader world you must make a living (your parents and guardians are counting on this), but be sure to make a life as well as a living. It is more important to be a person with meaning than it is to be a person of means. What you have in life is not nearly as important as who you have in your life.
I encourage you to be bold. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”
It should not surprise you that Emerson also wrote: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds …”
The three things about which I care today are: 1 ) Compassion 2) Justice 3) Fun.
Let’s begin with compassion. The Latin root of passion is the word “pati.” It means suffering. What you are passionate about you are willing to suffer for. The prefix “com” means “with.” Compassion is a willingness to suffer with another. We do not turn away from people in pain because we do not care. We turn away from people in pain because we do not know what to do. Education teaches us what to do, how to help, and sometimes it teaches us to sit still and listen.
Justice comes from the Latin “iustus” meaning upright, equitable, lawful, and proper. Our world has never implemented a full measure of justice. As a result, our world has never experienced a full measure of peace. These are things for which we must continue to strive with every fiber of our beings.
One of the greatest tests in life is to make the most of our gifts. For those of us who believe the source of those gifts is some higher power, how we use our gifts is an act of faith. No one of us is perfect. Each person is a blend of dust and divinity. Each is mortal and each heroic. It is up to us – it is up to you – to close the gap between the promise of humanity and the performance of human beings. I firmly believe that human beings are capable of traversing the distance between possibility and fact.
The journey may not be easy. We all face obstacles, each and every one of us. We all have mountains to climb and oceans to traverse. We all tangle with storms. We all face waves. We take on the challenges before us one step at a time. If you do hard things … compassion and justice are hard things … you will need to set aside some time to laugh, and you will need to give yourself permission to laugh.
Hillaire Belloc wrote: “Nothing is worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends.”
I commend you for reaching this milestone in life. I commend you for your achievements and for the achievements you are yet to make. Spalding University has prepared you well. As scholars you are creative individuals. You possess a clarity of mind and an energy of will. I have no doubt you shall meet the challenge of the coming years.
As I wind this up, it is my job to fill your head with platitudes—one or two of which you might actually remember. Socrates said, “All I know is that I know nothing.” I will freely admit don’t know anything for sure, but, I will end with ten things that I think I know:
1. Silence is golden, and, if silence you fail you, duct tape is silver.
2. It is never wrong to do the right thing, but that does not make it easy.
3. Road blocks only block the road … they do not block the grass, the path, the water, or the way less traveled … road blocks just block the road.
4. It is never too late to have a happy childhood … I have had several … I have many more planned. Or the corollary, I may grow old, but I will never be old enough to know better.
5. After a wrong turn, a step backward is a step in the right direction.
6. Learn from the mistakes of others, you cannot live long enough to make them all yourselves.
a) Or the corollary, it is difficult to become old and wise if you are not first young and stupid.
b) There are gradations of stupid: stupid, level one gets you heart, stupid level two gets others hurt, stupid level three involves police and lawyers and you might never own your own home.
c) Avoid all levels of stupid that begin with the phrase, “Hey hold my beer ‘nd watch ‘this.”
7. Do not burn bridges. Just loosen the bolts a little each day.
8. If you have to keep something that you are doing a secret … then perhaps you should not be doing it.
9. Is an important one for and university presidents, don’t take yourself too seriously … no one else does
10. Do not believe everything you think. Or as Socrates said, “all I know is that I know nothing.”
I have tremendous confidence that when you leave Spalding as alumni you will go out. You will teach, heal, feed, and build. You will inform, advocate, comfort, and guide. You will criticize, organize, contribute and in a hundred other ways, you will serve people and causes. You do you.
Last words from me today belong to the wise (if not old) soul of the poet Amanda Gorman:
“When the day calls us to stand together.
We envision a land
That is liberated, not lawless;
We create a future
That is free, not flawless.
Over and over, again and again,
We will stride up every mountain side,
Magnanimous and modest.
We will be protected and served
By a force that is honored and honest.
This is more than protest —
It’s a promise!”