Meredith College Chaplain Donna Battle, who serves as baccalaureate speaker during Meredith’s commencement weekend, shared a message with the campus community including special comments for the Class of 2020.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope is always a worthy topic of meditation and reflection, but this quote is about more than hope. It is also about time and perspective. During a commencement speech at the North Carolina Correctional Institution, a local judge shared that she came into her career later in life than others. For years she talked about going to law school, but kept putting it off as life events arose. When her father asked her about it she said, “Daddy I’m going to be in my mid-forties soon.” He responded by saying, “Yes, you’re going to be in your mid-forties either way. You may as well be in your mid-forties with a law degree.” She began the application process that week. Her hope of achieving her goal waned because it was attached to a perspective of time. This judge learned that shifting her perspective from when to what served to diminish (not eliminate) the disappointment of not having a law degree at a younger age.
Many of us had hopes for 2020. For some of us this is graduation year, a big birthday year, or a year for new beginnings. We imagined it with expectation and then the unexpected happened. Graduations are postponed, celebrations delayed, and plans waylaid. For others of us the delay is about formally saying goodbye to a loved one or hugging the ones you love. Over the years, I have been present with many who were grieving not just the death of a loved one, but their inability to be there before their loved one died. They had hoped to see them once more but could not. It has been a gift to walk with those who eventually discover that one lost moment cannot supersede a lifetime of interactions with a person. Hope is about expectation, but too often we make hope about time.
To our Class of 2020: Commencement is a monumental moment because you’ve worked hard, pressed through, overcame and made it to the end. I would argue that the event isn’t commencement but the journey. It is all the hours spent in class, studying and completing assignments. It is the ups and downs of many friendships, the tears of struggle and the laughter. Commencement commemorates but your consistent work over many years is what yields the degree. Did you know that commencement also means a beginning or a start? It is ironic that the ceremony marking the finish of one milestone is also named to mark a beginning. Though commencement will not take place on May 9 as originally planned, the moment will not fully pass because you have come to another beginning.
There is certainly disappointment when what was expected cannot happen as planned, but what King invites us to ponder is the difference between the temporary and permanent. Nothing can take the knowledge you’ve gained from learning. What you loved about a person for over 20 years will never change, even in death. What you overcame to make it to this point will always be a part of your story. Every breath a person breathed for the past 18,250 days is what truly commemorates a 50th birthday. The disappointment of the moment is finite but hope is infinite because hope is not bound by time. Hope has the capacity to shape our perspective in this moment because there is still time for our expectations to be met even if they are different than we imagined.
With love and in peace,
Chaplain Donna Battle