Spring has arrived on Vanderbilt’s campus under blustery protest.
The magnolia blossoms – luminous velvety bowls on waxen emerald sprays – preen and bob with each gust of wind. They are testament to the strength and beauty and fortitude of the region, which a year ago was overcome by floodwaters, the likes of which its residents had never seen.
Still remembering Nashville’s great flood, we mourn for the communities ravaged by tornadoes that carved a deadly path across the Southeast in terrifying fashion just weeks ago.
Spring 2011 has been unruly, unpredictable, destabilizing. Tornado sirens, flash flood warnings, the footage on the evening news – it taxes the nerves and stretches the heart to capacity, making it hurt for others while reliving old wounds.
For me, the visible signs of Commencement have been a welcome relief: the massive tents that sprang up overnight; the rows of chairs, regally aligned on Alumni Lawn, misty with morning dew – just as they are year after year.
Commencement is coming, and just in time. Beauty, majesty, tradition – the thought of it stirs me with anticipation.
It’s my eighth time to observe Vanderbilt’s Commencement, and this time around, even more so than in years past, I’m drawn to the ritual of it, the sacrament. It is for me, as it will be for others in attendance I am sure, in many ways restorative.
Commencement is, after all, not unlike spring. It is a time of endings and new beginnings and hope.
And so, we will rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. With each name read, each handshake, cheer and teary eye, we will honor our graduates while remembering our neighbors and friends in the South, in academe, in the world, who suffer. And when it is over, we will send forth another band of emissaries across our planet to do good things.
Neither wind nor wave can stop this, our mission. And for that I’m thankful.