December Graduates' Recognition Celebration
Saleem Hassan Ali, Assistant Professor of Natural Resources
My dear graduates and family members, as I start my reflection today, you might be wondering from my accent where did I originally come from? We are often afraid to ask such questions these days but dear friends such questions at times of transition such as a graduation are very salient. Our sense of place and belonging is always challenged as we move from one chapter of life and place to another. We should not feel uncomfortable about asking questions of what constitutes our identity? Our ethnic heritage, our political allegiance, our citizenship and most consequentially for today our university alumni network.
However, what is so wonderful in today’s world and especially pertinent at such momentous times as graduations is that we can have multiple allegiances and identities and move from one to the other quite seamlessly. As UVM graduates and as Americans, you should always be willing to embrace and celebrate multiple identities. Always question your initial impressions, for instinctive impulses that would work well in the wild world of college life might not be your best guide in the complex world that follows after graduation.
My own identity reflects this complexity that initial impressions might not be able to encompass. Surprisingly to many of you perhaps, I was not born in some far-off land but in New Bedford, Massachusetts and spent much of my early years there. However, during my impressionable teenage years, I accompanied my mother to Pakistan where she was employed as an educator. After completing high school in Pakistan, my mother and I moved back to America and all my higher studies were completed here. I was thus fortunate to have multiple identities engrained in me from early years.
Dear graduates I hope you will also be willing to embrace multiple identities in today’s world for it is truly our only hope for bridging the growing divide between east and west north and south or any other categorization that we may choose to espouse.
Since graduations are often a time to also consider what our elders have said before us, I have some words of reflection first for graduates and then for their families from two of our poetic elders.
For the graduates, please consider the following definition of success that is attributed to various authors including Emerson, and Robert Louis Stevenson:
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
In the sprit of bridging East and West, let us consider some reflective advice for parents from the Lebanese-American poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and bends with might that arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so must the archer love the bow that is stable.
My heartfelt congratulations to you all.
Last modified December 27 2006 05:16 PM