It is graduation week and my thoughts are with our graduates – those that we have had the privilege of caring for as faculty over the past 4 or 5 years. On Friday and Saturday we will celebrate their accomplishments. We will applaud them for their successful completion of a very challenging and comprehensive program. We will become part of photographic moments with family and friends. We will pray for every blessing on their future paths. We will acknowledge that they are now our colleagues and not our students. These times are bittersweet. We know our graduates are ready and already outgrowing us, but we also know the complexity and challenges that lie ahead in the world where they will offer themselves as teachers. We know they have learned enough to be outstanding beginning teachers, but in many ways their learning is just beginning and we have to absolutely trust that they will continue to learn – that they will continue to care deeply about their students as whole persons, that they will continue to pay attention in a way that calls those students into being, that they will continue to care about the most important and meaningful questions in life and learning, that they will find places to nurture life in whatever dehumanizing system they find themselves in (and all systems can be dehumanizing), that they will continue to reach out to those who are further along on the journey of becoming teachers, that they will stay open and wondering, joyful and hopeful.
How will it be possible for them to do these things without us there to encourage them, help them, teach them? We probably think too highly of ourselves, but it really is like Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web seeing the spiderlings transported and separated by the wind to destinations unknown and beyond their control. Their teaching selves are so fragile and they are still so young. So we send them off with smiles and tears. We can’t help it.
The good news is that it is also NOT like Wilbur the Pig in Charlotte’s Web. We know that we have given our graduates more than practical training, more than sound educational theory, more than professional attitudes and dispositions. We’ve given them what gives us life. We’ve given them the hope that our God is with them no matter where they find themselves as teachers. He is everywhere present and fills all things, the treasury of good things and the giver of life. We’ve reminded them to pay attention to the good, the beautiful and the true because God is there. We’ve told them that there are dangers in ideals that become idols and over-simplistic answers to complex questions. We’ve encouraged them (by word and deed) to be present with their students, in the messy and unplanned moment, open to the unexpected, open to the still small voice of wisdom that speaks to prayerful hearts. We’ve shared the joy and hope we find in teaching, knowing that they can find the same joys and hopes. We’ve shown them that teaching, turning souls, is a vocation – God gifted work – work that is always too big for us, work that requires grace and a continual turning towards the light.
And so we can say good-bye with smiles and tears and gratefulness. Our God is with us.