Bluffton grads hear parting words of advice
On a day to celebrate Bluffton University’s most recent graduates, mothers were fittingly celebrated as well. Bluffton’s 2016 commencement ceremony took place on Sunday, May 8, Mother’s Day.
With her own mother watching, Sarah Thompson, executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams, gave the commencement address appropriately titled, “For All Our Mothers.”
About 250 students, earning both graduate and undergraduate degrees, took part in the ceremony. Three thousand family, friends and supporters filled Sommer Center to cheer them on.
“This is the day that celebrates your perseverance through the ups and downs of the college or graduate work experience, your labor of learning,” said Thompson.
Thompson reminded the students that none of them would be there without their mothers—their many mothers. “There is the female person that birthed you. And there are those people in your life who mothered you, raised you up,” said Thompson.
One of the mothers each graduate has in common is God. Thompson reminded the students that “the Bible does not shy away from female imagery to describe God.” And she urged the students to remember the lessons from their religion classes and to continue to grow in faith in their new homes and communities.
“Those who are religious these days are being blamed for many of the globe’s political problems. Make Mother God proud, and be a part of the healing instead of aggravating these conflicts,” said Thompson. “Do this by paying attention to whose voices are heard more than others, asking yourself whose voices are missing in a conversation and who benefits by the outcome?”
Thompson explained that another mother each of the graduates has in common is Mother Earth. Thompson challenged the students to treat this mother with respect.
“What will your master’s or bachelor’s (degree) do in a world that is rapidly deforesting? An Earth that is hot with rising oceans, and scarred by advertisements to get you to buy more plastic? How will you use your degree to respond?”
Thompson named Bluffton as the final mother each of the graduates has in common. “Universities are called your alma mater for a reason,” said Thompson. “Alma mater means nourishing/kind mother. And just as you would never forget to honor, support, help and show up for the other mothers in your life, give back to your university.”
Thompson acknowledged the new graduates’ relationships with Bluffton are changing, but relationships with all mother’s change throughout life. “This type of change is something you can embrace because Bluffton has prepared you,” said Thompson.
Thompson also recognized that many graduating will be mothers in the future, and even if they don’t parent, they can mother by bringing birth to ideas.
“Craft the world that you want children to grow up in, not so much focused on things, but on relationships of integrity,” said Thompson.
Finally she urged the graduates to stay connected to each other following graduation, because if Bluffton is their mother, they are all siblings.
Earlier that morning, students heard one final lecture from Dr. Matthew Friesen, associate professor of sociology. Friesen was chosen by students to give the Baccalaureate address. He focused the lecture on finding one’s vocation, using Romans 12:1-2 as inspiration
“I think it is interesting how lack of conformity is connected to discernment, and understanding God’s call on our lives appears to have something to do with breaking the rules a bit,” said Friesen.
He then told the story of a young woman seeking clarity in the path God wanted her to take.
Friesen explained the young woman sought guidance from a man she was told speaks with God. The man explained that God could indeed tell her what to do with her life, but first, she needed to: go someplace she had never been, eat with someone she had never met and do something that scares her to death.
So the woman headed to a nearby village she was told never to enter because the people were strange there. In the village, she ate with a woman she had never met, and in the evening, men approached, ready to take the girl’s belongings as well as those of her new friend. Instead, she was brave and scared them away.
“She spent the rest of the day meeting people and shaking. The words of thanks from her new friend and greetings from others who admired her courage were drowned out by the residual adrenaline,” said Friesen. “This was not like her. “
Having fulfilled all of the requirements of the man who speaks with God, she returned and was told God’s plan for her life would be revealed in the morning.
The next morning, these words were scribbled on a scrap piece of paper. “Surprise me!”
“Surprise us! Surprise your family! Surprise your friends! Surprise even God,” said Friesen. “On this day of graduation, I challenge you to surprise us! Reach further than us! Care more profoundly than us. Think more deeply than us. Be more courageous than us. Love your friends and enemies more boldly than us. Surprise us and perhaps even yourself with your fearless exploration around the world or by being that courageous voice of justice in your hometown.”
On this day of graduation, I challenge you to surprise us! Reach further than us! Care more profoundly than us. Think more deeply than us. Be more courageous than us. Love your friends and enemies more boldly than us. Surprise us and perhaps even yourself with your fearless exploration around the world or by being that courageous voice of justice in your hometown."