I didn’t cry at my only child’s graduation from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana recently. The older I have gotten, the less sentimental I have grown, which somehow makes me think of Yeats’ lines on his grave, “Cast a cold eye/On life, on death/ Horseman, pass by.”
Still, there was one moment in the Baccalaureate Ceremony in the Wellness Center on Saturday morning—it had been raining with Biblical ferocity for days and all ceremonies were indoors--when one of the graduating seniors from a village in Kenya stood up at the lectern and said one sentence, in his sing-song African accent, that nearly unleashed a flood of tears inside me: “Everything will be all right.”
Surely he must have said more, as so many of the commencement speakers did that day—reflections about the urgency of embracing lost causes, advice about tolerating uncertainty and adversity, metaphors about how humans are like stars in that none of us alone creates a constellation…and yet, it was as if those five words cast a spell over everything else—The Buddhist and Hebrew Prayers, the Quaker Quotations, the Spanish Poems—and created a stillness that quieted even the gestures of the interpreter for the hearing impaired.
Everything will be all right. Even though we are presided over by “the man in orange,” as one African-American student speaker referred to him, who seems hell-bent on applying a wrecking ball to every piece of progressive legislation of his precedessor, making it harder for Earlhamites from Muslim countries to travel back to their homelands. But courts have already challenged the constitutionality of this travel ban and graduating seniors have created The International Student Relief Fund to help Earlham students who might be affected by the travel ban, a fund which has already raised several thousand dollars, and to which this writer has contributed a modest sum.
Everything will be all right. Even though the world in which my son will be taking his place is increasingly bifurcated by the haves and the have-nots, those with many zeros behind their names and those who struggle to get by on a few dollars a day.
But all is not lost because my son and many of his peers are pledging to give back to their communities, determined not to model their lives after the self-aggrandizing offspring of the 45th president. In August, my son will start working for City Year, an Americorps program for Apprentice Teachers in inner-city Boston. Forgoing many of the pleasures he grew up with, he will live close to the poverty level, helping students in under-served public schools reach their potential and graduate from high school.
Everything will be all right. Even though my only child’s father and I have been divorced for four years, a divorce that was sometimes bitter, as divorces will be, as were the divorces of both sets of his grand-parents. Still, here we are sitting for many hours side-by-side in the metal folding chairs in the Wellness Center of Earlham College, watching our son being folded in the bosomy embrace of the Registrar, filing out into the sunshine of a perfect May day and meeting the kindly professor with a full, white beard who reminds us of Dumbledore in Harry Potter and who says that having our son in his Islam and film class every morning was a joy.
Everything will be all right because we are held still in this achingly imperfect world trying not to cast too cold an eye on those who have come before us and those who come after us and struggling, in our imperfect ways, to put ourselves to right.
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