Jill Mattuck Tarule,
Dean of the College of Education and Social Services
“Connection, Relationships and Love”
A recent event in my own life – my father’s death – set me to thinking hard about connections, relationships and love. Maybe an odd topic, you might be thinking, for a closing reflection, but I want to convince you in the next minute or two that it really isn’t all that odd at all.
For you, the graduates, this day marks a change in how you are connected to other people and, even, to a place. And that change is also a change for all who are here: for family, for the friends you have made here – your peers, faculty and staff members. Even if you go home to live with what family therapists call your “family of origin”, the relationships are different. Your parents are now the parents of a college graduate or for graduate students, your partner is now the partner of Dr. Somebody or a Somebody with a Masters degree. Staying in touch with good friends you have made here has to happen differently. You can’t meet casually, passing on campus. And so on.
It is a cliché to say that all endings are a beginning, but it’s a true cliché. As we move from one phase of our lives to another, our relationships shift – they change, they become closer or more distant, they focus on different things, they grow or they don’t.
At graduations we talk a lot about individuals and their futures. About their work, profession or further study. As we end this graduation, I chose to focus on the graduate as a person embedded in a context and community who is going through a profound shift in how they are connected with others in their life. In “In Blackwater Woods”, poet Mary Oliver offers advice on how to sustain connection in moments like these:
To live in this world
You must be able
To do three things:
To love what is mortal:
To hold it
Against your bones knowing
Your own life depends on it,
And, when the time comes to let it go,
To let it go.
In your years at UVM, while you have been studying and learning a discipline or a profession – or both – you have also been learning how to build and sustain connections with other people. You’ve been learning about relationships. You’ve been learning how to hold another close in your heart, while letting them become all they need to be – even if it means letting go. That’s a very hard thing to learn. As Margaret Atwood says in “Tricks with Mirrors”:
“Don’t assume it is passive
or easy, this clarity
with which I give you yourself…”
I hope that your time in our UVM campus community has been rich with relationships that have, indeed, given you yourself. And please understand that it is not my intent to ignore how critical it is to have work in your life that animates you and makes a contribution. It is. And I wish that for all of us. But I also want to wish what is less often included in these talks: I wish for the graduates, and for all of us, lives that are full of love, and of what an American Indian teacher of mine called “right relations”. As Joan Erikson put it, talking about the eight life stages that she and her husband Erik are famous for:
“People in every stage depend on other people. Out of connection, real growth happens. If there is no reciprocity, nothing ever works” (Anderson, 2004, pg. 219).
Atwood, Margaret. “Tricks with Mirrors” in Selected Poems. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1976
Anderson, Joan. A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom from an Unconventional Woman. NY: Broadway Books, 2004
Oliver, Mary. “In Blackwater Woods” in New and Selected Poems.
Boston: Beacon Press. 1992