Baccalaureate Remarks 2017
I have never been someone who leaves his work until the last minute. I only pulled one all-nighter in college, in my freshman year, and was so shattered for days that I never did that again.
So, I have been thinking about what I would say to you for some time, and had a pretty good draft ready to go after last weekend. Imagine my distress a few nights ago when I ripped up what I had been working on and found myself staring at a blank screen. I know you know what I am talking about.
It wasn’t that I had a better idea in mind. I just wasn’t happy with what I had put together for you. Nothing wrong with it, but it didn’t speak to me and I knew therefore that it wouldn’t speak to you.
After some real time had passed—after I checked my email, took out the garbage, and found a few other ways to avoid focusing—what I really wanted to talk with you about dawned on me.
As I was pondering and procrastinating, I kept coming back to my own college experience and my friend—a guy we will call “Mike.” We’ll call him “Mike” because that’s his name.
I met Mike on our first day of college, and he was my closest friend until we graduated, and he remains one of my closest friends today. Mike is super smart and incredibly thoughtful. I spent my college Thanksgivings at his parents’ house; they were amazing people and treated me like their fifth son. There is not a Thanksgiving that goes by that I don’t think of them.
My guess is that this sounds quite familiar to many of you.
Mike and his wife, Maureen, (again, I will call her that because that’s her name), have been married for over thirty years and they have raised three great boys, all Eagle Scouts (no kidding). Maureen is even more amazing than Mike. Oh, yeah, Mike and Maureen are devoted dog people, and I must say it would be a deal breaker for me if they had turned to cats. I am sure that’s not politically correct, but there you are.
But I digress.
During the summer, now that our kids are grown, the four of us head to Montana, where we fish together. After the time I spend with my family, this trip may be the thing I most look forward to every year. We share stories of our jobs, the world, life, and, most importantly, our kids (and, this year, they are in for an earful about our new granddaughter). We are irreverent in a way that only close friends can be, and Mike and I revert to our early twenties again (much to what we hope is the amusement, but is likely the embarrassment, of Julianne and Maureen).
I am blessed to have a few very close friends, and I am blessed that Mike is one of them.
By now you are beginning to ask yourself, why is he telling us about Mike?
Mike and I are very different in many of our world, political, and social views. He is a Midwesterner, a Republican, and a staunch supporter of the NRA. Suffice it to say, that doesn’t describe me.
So, it is something of a real curiosity that we can be so close with very different views about some fundamental matters.
What I have come to understand is that goodness and virtue in someone you’re close to transcends particular beliefs and points of view. There is something deeper that binds us to the people we care about. I’m not sure exactly what is going on here. I have more thinking to do on that. But I do know that Mike and I understand and acknowledge our different points of view. I know he is wrong about some things and he, of course, knows that I am wrong. But it doesn’t change our relationship.
Beyond that realization is that I have come to see that Mike makes me a better person. That’s true for Julianne, my parents, my kids, and my other close friends. In Mike’s case, among other things, he forces me to think about ideas in ways I would never consider, because I cannot make it personal. I have to consider the ideas for what they are.
He makes real for me the notion that the ideas may be wrongheaded, but the person articulating them is not bad.
He forces my better angels to the surface, where it would be easy to be dismissive or get my back up. And because of this, I listen and learn, and I get better at engaging more thoughtfully. I now understand this as a gift.
So, if you’re lucky, like me, you will also find your “Mike.”—someone who, because they are someone you respect, value and love—you necessarily must engage in an agreeable way on some really tough issues, and consider the ideas for what they are, rather than personalizing them. And when you do that, you come to know that people with whom you disagree about ideas you hold dear, can actually be wonderful.
And by the way—just so you know—I have still caught bigger fish than Mike.