University of Vermont

Ceremonial Events - Commencement

Stephanie Kaza Closing Reflection Commencement 2006

Closing Reflection

Stephanie Kaza
Professor of Environmental Studies
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

Now we come to the close of this ceremony, a pause to reflect at this important turn of the journey. We leave this chapter of life as changed people – parents, teachers, students – all of us no longer who we were four or five years ago. We have gained and grown from each other, sharing the common crucible of learning, our minds forged into new shapes by difficult questions and different points of view. Each person here has suffered periods of pain and loss, and even now may carry that loss with them, a touchstone for the heart. Each person here has endured hours of sustained effort, supporting the practice of learning, placing one foot after another on the long path. And each person here has received unexpected gifts of joy that have nourished them along the way.

How will we each go forward into the next chapters of learning? For we are all students, drawn to and embraced by the Great Unknown. We don’t know what life will present as the next assignment, the next project. We don’t know if we will be able to give what is asked, if we will be able to meet the challenges ahead. We only know that we will arrive bearing gifts – of imagination, of hope, of friendship, of skill. Each of us has been given many things during this time, and it is our job now to pass them on, to allow the gifts to move.

Poet Gary Snyder suggests that “we should try to … spread confidence in the natural beauty of the human mind and the natural dignity of life…”1 The mind is a remarkable gift, honed to great facility across thousands of years, strengthened and enriched by intensive learning. Snyder urges us to use our minds and bodies to take up “the real work.” What does he mean? “The real work” is a kind of zen koan, a question we can keep asking no matter how old we are, no matter what our circumstances. For Snyder,

The real work is what we really do. And what our lives are… [T]he real work [is] to make the world as real as it is, and to find ourselves as real as we are within it.2

At the center of this work is becoming a real person – whole, true, shaped by the gifts of life, and present to meet life, to be a full participant -- one hundred per cent. Surely the world needs every bit of real work we can offer with our gift-bearing hearts and minds.

How then shall we go forth from this ceremonial day? Let me close with a blessing for the journey, a blessing for all of us as we make our way in a world of hopes and challenges. In the words of writer Ursula Le Guin:

Let what you do not know come into your eyes….
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
And the ways you go be the lines on your palms…
Walk carefully, well loved one,
Walk mindfully, well loved one,
Walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
Be always coming home.3

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1 Gary Snyder, The Real Work: Interviews and talks 1964-1979, ed. William Scott McLean (New York: New Directions, 1980), p. 51.

2 Ibid, p. 82

3 Ursula K. LeGuin, “Intitiation Song from the Finders Lodge,” Always Coming Home (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985).

Last modified May 28 2007 06:08 AM

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