To all our graduates…
We were so proud of you yesterday and it is important that you know that. There must have been so many times over the past three years when it appeared that the opposite was the case and that you would never be good enough for us. But we always knew you were and that is why we never stopped pushing you.
You have learnt so much, amassed so much information that has intellectually stretched you and taken you out of your comfort zones: Concepts that were so infuriatingly slippery, arguments that initially were confusingly convoluted, you have begun to master. But importantly, you have realised that it isn’t all about knowledge and chasing the ‘correct answer.’ Watching you climb those steps and walk across the stage to receive your well deserved degree scroll, we knew that you weren’t thinking about which Hebrew or Greek words pose problems to the translator, what gave rise to the filioque controversy, or the different categories of ethical thought. But it is about how knowing that sort of information can and has changed you; how it has widened your world, helped you to see difference and similarity and to find the generosity of spirit to embrace them both, to not be afraid of the other’s voice and to find the courage and strength to question your own.
We could remember how you came to us with such passion and excitement and how, particularly during those early days, you were stretched and challenged. There were times when we could hear the anxiety in your questions as things which had appeared so solid and sacred to you began to turn to dust and slip through your fingers. For you had chosen a subject which does not just touch the intellect or furnish you with a handful of skills to sell; it touches hearts and souls and the very essence of who we think we are. And we saw how, at times, your compass tilted and span and the Polestar dipped and fell from your sky. Those are lonely times. Although we couldn’t see the tears, the nights of confused thoughts, the doubts, the fear, the anger, the turmoils of the heart – we had no doubt that they were there. But you didn’t give up. And though the terrain beneath your feet pitched and shifted as your world enlarged, you also grew with it.
But this is only part of the reason why we celebrated your joy yesterday. The truth is that, we actually had very little part in your growth. We could not make you grow anymore than a gardener can make her roses bloom or a farmer create spring shoots of wheat or a child create the blaze of a sunflower. If we had a small part, it was bringing you together with the things that we love; the questions that stump and perplex us too, the text that niggles or sets us on fire, the writer that shakes our familiar worlds and helps us to see things anew.
The real reason is that it has been a privilege to watch you grow and be part of your lives for three short years. And you have given to us so much. For it has been in your growing that we have grown too. Just as (hopefully) our working together has left some small legacy in your life, so be assured that you too have you left a legacy for us. Throughout these three years we pushed and challenged you to excel and you pushed and challenged us; forcing us to reach for newer heights. Those questions you asked that have made us go away and once more think through something we had begun to take for granted, introducing us to new authors and new ideas, choosing research topics that take us out of our comfort zones and acquaint us with arguments that are strange and sometimes uncomfortable to us, encouraging us to identify our unseen ‘other’ and to listen to their once-silenced voice. If we are better lecturers, tutors, people, then it is, in part, because of you.
We celebrate the gaining of your degrees not simply because of what you have received, but for what you have given to us and the knowledge and confidence that you will continue in that giving.
Richard and the Theology Team at Newman