Kara L. Christianson '06
Today, we celebrate community. We celebrate that we have finally begun to understand each other as a community – and we will shortly be challenged to find a place within larger communities. We celebrate what we have learned; that community can be large and encompassing, but must be built on effort put into individual relationships. We celebrate that community is less about speaking with our own voice and more about developing the art of listening to other voices. Community puts emphasis on our unique abilities, but puts them into perspective as we recognize the vast variety of abilities amongst us.
At Puget Sound, we have learned about community as a rower learns to pull with the team. We have learned to listen to the call of the coxswain rather than try to decipher the shouts of many leaders. We have discovered that following one another does not make each lesser leaders, but more of a team. We have learned to stroke together – because even though our strengths are different, our collective pull is strong.
Puget Sound has taught us that discipline can lead to mastery; waking up in pre-dawn hours to hit the water pays off. And mastery leads to confidence, confidence to character. At Puget Sound, our character sets us apart as we strive to be more compassionate, more engaged, more aware of the social problems and economic issues that challenge our class as we leave this campus.
But today is not a day to mourn what we leave behind, but rather rejoice in the resources we take with us. For the University of Puget Sound is not a place, but an idea; an idea that progress comes from understanding the complicated relationships of our world, an idea that positive change happens when our ideas about self grow larger, not narrower. Puget Sound requires examination, research, thoughtfulness, deliberation and empathy. Puget Sound is art meets science, it is practical meets radical. We embody the Puget Sound idea, and from now on, it cannot be separated from us. And that is an idea to celebrate. We are a united community. We are Puget Sound.
As we walk away, we carry the idea of Puget Sound with us. We carry the idea of scholarship- fine tuned by hundreds of hours spent over books or computers. We carry the idea of leadership- the belief that our passion and achievement will help others to become impassioned and achieve. And we carry the idea of service- that we are able to give back, starting now, and make the way easier for those struggling here at Puget Sound, for those struggling in our neighborhoods, our cities, our nation, our world. We may not give as much as we hope to, or lead as well as we like or be the best scholars in our field. But the idea of Puget Sound encourages us that it is not only what we make of this moment or of the last four years. The idea of Puget Sound is what we are willing to do, how we believe we will grow, what lengths we will go to in order to gain new perspectives. Puget Sound encourages us that no matter what, we are pulling together, we are pulling toward the same ideals – and even with dissidence amongst us and discrepancies as to method and practice, our ideals are united by our education and the community we have made together.
Our class is already challenged by issues of inequality, poverty, education, racism, immigration, war…. But I believe we will rise to these challenges and begin to face injustice by putting our Puget Sound community to the test. In each scenario we are dealt and each problem we are forced to confront, we will use the same techniques we learned – as the rowers did. We will pull together. We will listen harder. We will push ourselves a little further than we think we are ready to go. We will encourage one another. We will lead when we are called and follow when we are able. And we will strive to do this all with a spirit of compassion.
Author Eugene Peterson raises a challenge to his readers that I find equally relevant to my class as we walk away from this place. He writes, “Every day I put love on the line. There is nothing I am less good at than love. I am schooled and trained in acquisitive skills, in getting my own way. And yet I decide, everyday, to set aside what I can do best and attempt what I do very clumsily, open myself up to the frustrations and failures of loving, daring to believe that failing in love is better than succeeding in pride.”
That we would take up such a great fight is part of the spirit of Puget Sound. As a community we carry in ourselves the ability to succeed individually, or the understanding that it is true strength to sacrifice, to attempt new things, to work and strive and push forward even against truly great and daunting injustices – to love the “other” as well as we have come to love ourselves.
And we have not done it alone. We will not push forward alone. As a class, we owe many thanks to those who gather in support of our achievement today. I will speak for myself, but hopefully also for the impressive rows of graduates that sit before me. Thank you to my family: for fixing my laptop umpteen times, for changing my tires and sending me packages, for challenging me with theological debates at the dinner table and for loving me whether I called home to explain that C+ or tell you I finally met my goal of the Dean’s list.
Most importantly, since it is your day too; Thank you, mom. Thank you for trusting my decision. Thank you for letting me move – where? Tacoma? – it’s pretty nice, isn’t it? Thank you, Mom, for sacrificing your time and resources and personal gains so that I could stand here today and still be in love with my school and growing myself. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I may be the one holding the diploma, but you walked the whole way with me.
Today, as we celebrate community I hope we will remember everyone from the dedicated UPS staff to our diligent professors, talented peers and proud families. I believe we should be encouraged by our individual successes but motivated by our collective strength. I pray we will take this idea of Puget Sound, and, as we walk away, not be afraid to try something that we are less good at, something that is hard, something that challenges us and stimulates us and brings us back to the community we have made. Because I promise to pull with you; I believe you will pull with me. And together, we will pull strong. Congratulations, class of 2006. You embody the best idea of Puget Sound.