Dr. Wendy Chase Dazzled the Crowd at Edison State's First Fall Commencement

Dec 15, 2009

Dr. Wendy Chase eloquently addressed the graduates at Edison State’s first Fall Commencement on Dec. 10th at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall. For those of you who missed her moving address, we have included her remarks below and added links to her points of reference:


Good Evening Graduates and Parents, President Walker, Campus Presidents, Trustees and my esteemed colleagues.  What a testimony to the growth of Edison State College that we are gathered here together for the first time for a Winter Commencement Ceremony. 

I am honored and humbled by the task set before me this evening.  After I agreed to give this address, my

 mind scurried around trying to dig up any bits of wisdom I could remember having received as a

 graduating student.  I have to confess that it was NOT the words of any of my commencement speakers

 that stuck in my mind but the voice of my oldest son, Kelly, who was four years old when I completed my

 Ph.D.  On the afternoon of my graduation he came with me to plant a garden for our elderly friend,

 Faye, who had suffered a stroke.  We were sitting on her front porch afterwards and she turned to Kelly

 and said, “So Kelly, I hear your Mama is going to become a real Doctor this evening.”  Without skipping

 a beat he said, “Yeah….well….not the kind of doctor that actually fixes anything.” 

This may seem like an ironic way to begin this address since Kelly’s reply suggests that he was disappointed to learn that after all that schooling, I was still NOT prepared to step out into the world and set wrong to right.  Obviously, that is not the message I want to pass on to you tonight.  Kelly’s comment is meaningful because it reminded me that the purpose of life is to be useful—that all of this education is designed to help us make a difference.  There is a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver  (http://www.globalideasbank.org/LA/LA-2.HTML) called “When Death Comes”.  Near the end of the poem she writes,

When it’s over, I want to say, all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


 And here you are, our freshly-minted graduates, reaching out to take the world into your arms.  And it is you who are amazing.  This ceremony is designed to escort you over the threshold of one ending to a new beginning.  For the word “commencement” means “the act of beginning”.  At first glance, it seems contradictory, since we are here to celebrate an achievement—an endpoint—the culmination of semesters of disciplined study.  We are here to recognize that you are equipped with the knowledge and skills you need to move forward in the direction of your dreams.  And yet, moving forward means you have to launch yourself out of the well-feathered nest at Edison State, where class sizes are small and professors know your names.  I’m sure for many of you, the pride and excitement you feel tonight is mixed with some apprehension at the thought of becoming a beginner again.  But my hope for you is that you can truly savor and preserve this priceless state of mind that is the beginner’s mind.


Because most of the meaningful parts of our lives are NOT lived in a state of knowing and mastery.  They are lived in a state of not-knowing.  Think of how you feel when you walk into a party where you don’t know anyone.  Or the first few days, weeks, months at a new job when you don’t quite understand the dynamics of the institution or the expectations of your boss and colleagues.  It can be nerve-wracking, certainly, but it is also incredibly invigorating.  Because you are living in a heightened state of awareness where you notice every gesture and are wide open to possibility.  Something vital is lost when the edge wears off and we settle into the role of being the “one who knows” rather than the one who is alert and open to what is happening right before their eyes. 


I remember watching a play once with an intense dinner scene where an actor had to bang his fist on the table.  When he did, the table unexpectedly collapsed.  Watching the actors scramble to catch the plates and crystal was the most riveting moment of the production.  What could have been their biggest failure had energized the rest of the play because the actors were caught off-balance and forced off-script.



The Japanese refer to this kind of situation as “wabi-sabi”: the beauty found in things that are imperfect, incomplete or impermanent.  Leonard Cohen captures the same concept in a song called “Anthem” (  http://www.last.fm/music/Leonard+Cohen/_/Anthem)


The chorus goes:


Ring the bell that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything—

That’s how the light gets in.


Light.  Another image that is particularly relevant to this evening because it is so closely associated with our namesake, Thomas Edison.   And the diploma you will receive is embossed with the Edison State logo of a torch.  My hope is that each of you will wield that diploma in your hand like a torch:  setting the world ablaze with your usefulness even if your efforts are not always perfect.  Fearlessly shining your light into the deepest darkness.  For things do look a little dark from here and there is so much to fix in this world.  We are engaged in two wars, the polar ice caps are melting, the economy is stagnant.   


But every day, as I read about these situations, I also read about the incredible responses to our problems.  I read about all of the people who are devoting a portion of their lives to getting out there and “fixing things” and I cannot help but feel inspired and optimistic.  Consider the conference taking place in Copenhagen right now: over 8,000 people from 170 countries are meeting to address the issue of climate change.  They are arriving on Co-2 neutral trains that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago.  They are riding bikes to and from the conference in temperatures just above freezing.  They’re hosting a fashion show featuring sustainably-produced clothing and workshops for children on how to create a greener future.  And they are doing all of this, in spite of the news that the last decade will go down as the hottest decade on record since the early 19th c..  They are doing all of this in spite of the now infamous leaked documents.  They are doing all of this in spite of the fact that they know their methods  are not perfect.  And yet, these people have NOT thrown up their hands in despair, they’ve joined hands, so that they can more easily take the world into their arms.


On his website, wiserearth.org ( http://www.wiserearth.org ), activist and green businessman, Paul Hawken, has links to over one million organizations around the world http://www.wiserearth.org/ devoted to peace, environmental stewardship, social justice and the preservation of diverse and indigenous cultures.  If we could line up the names of these organizations and link them together in an unbroken line using a 10-point font, it would stretch for 27 miles!


So, sure, there are deep and persistent problems in the world you will inherit tonight. But keep in mind that there are equally persistent people.  People who have already proven that they have the stamina, the sheer moxy, the hearts and minds to confront that which is difficult and find solutions to carry us forward. And those people are not all in Copenhagen. They are not all working for NGOs around the world. Some of those people are seated in this room, right here, right now.

They are people like Michele DiRocco who began her academic career at another University, but after an accident that required a two-year recovery period, moved to SWFL and enrolled in Edison State.  Tonight Michele is graduating with her bachelor…a degree she earned in one-year while working full-time. 

 They are people like Sabrina Long, a mother of three, who returned to school at age 27.  And tonight she will become the first person in her family to graduate from College…and she is graduating with Honors! In fact, 57% of our graduates are going to be the first in their families to graduate tonight.  Could you please stand up so we can appreciate you.  They are people like Pamela Earl, who, at age 60 has completed her Associate of Arts degree.  In fact, I am speaking of all of you.    All 477 men.   All 620 women.   All of you who have juggled jobs, and family responsibilities, and your course work to make it here tonight.  You have all proven that you deserve this. You’ve shown through your dedication and perseverance that you can develop your talents and skills to make meaningful contributions to your family, your friends and your community. 


You know, each semester I include a quote from Plutarch ( http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plotinus/ ) at the top of my syllabus…it reads, “The mind is not like a vessel for filling but like a fire for kindling.” Those words help guide me in what I do. So let me conclude my comments to you tonight by saying “thank you” for this beautiful image that I have before me right now.  This image of all of you, in your funky hats and outlandish robes.. …with your minds well-kindled and your hearts ablaze…ready to go out and join the ranks of those who have used their diplomas  to actually fix things.  Congratulations Graduates!  Now is your time to shine.”