The coming of spring, in the European tradition, has always heralded the sense of renewed hope and optimism in the world. It is the time for romance to blossom, along with the flowers of the trees and fields; it is a time when both nature and people are reinvigorated in their hopes and dreams.
It is perhaps hard to believe in such a hope in the spring of 2018. Over the last month, Canada was saddened and dismayed by news of a tragic bus accident involving a junior hockey team that took many lives. As a nation we were further saddened and dismayed by news of the murderous actions of a young man in Toronto who took ten lives using his vehicle as a weapon. Internationally, we learned in disbelief of the use of chemical weapons against the citizens of Syria, including children. The violence and atrocities taking place around the world challenge our fundamental beliefs in the goodness of people, and, even in the springtime of the year, we wonder if there is hope.
Against this dark backdrop, we nonetheless dare to celebrate: We celebrate our graduating students and their accomplishments; we rejoice when they cross the stage and receive the fruit of their labours, their degrees. It is important to rejoice, to celebrate, not only what they have accomplished but what that represents.
Graduation, fittingly in spring, is nothing less than a symbol of hope. Throughout its long and storied history of education in the liberal tradition, Mount Allison has been a place that prepares people to enter into the world as those who have something to offer. The original purpose of Mount Allison – rooted in its church origins, and nurtured through its teaching and study and its extracurricular life – was to raise up young men and women who would bring the values of the university and the church into their professional lives, their communities and on into the world. Preceded by the traditional religious blessing of our graduates in the baccalaureate service the night before, convocation is not the celebration of achievements in years just past, but is also the celebration of possibilities and potentials for years to come.
Many universities were founded by churches in the 19th century, and they began with the same goal and mission: to prepare their young men, and in some cases also young women, to learn not only about the world they would live in, but to learn how to live in that world with the love and grace of God. While most universities have since moved away from their church origins, the continuing ideals and values are in keeping with their origins: to educate and nurture adults who are not only aware of their world, but who also have the desire and skills to respond to its challenges.
The message has always been the same: the darkness of the world can seem overwhelming, but we cannot and must not be overwhelmed by that darkness. We cannot change the whole world, but we can be a light in our small corner of it. Let us not be so overwhelmed by the darkness that we do nothing; rather, let us be light to those around us, and join with others, so that collectively our light brings hope and healing to our world.
I rejoice in those who have graduated in years past, and who have been effective agents of healing and hope, of transformation and renewal, in ways small and large in their communities, their countries and even on the global stage. I rejoice in those who graduate this year, for the hope, enthusiasm, energy and commitment they bring to our world. I rejoice in the light of learning and of love that will shine in the dark times of life; I am reminded of this light in the world, even as I see the light in the chapel still shining through stained glass.