The speeches were exceptional at the Cistercian Class of 2021 graduation last night. You can see a recording of the ceremony on YouTube. The three co-valedictorian speeches, starting at 15:02 were quite good, focusing on themes of humility, self-knowledge, duty, and eternal life rather than worldly success. The guest speaker, acclaimed playwright and Cistercian alumnus, Will Arbury, had a very thoughtful and beautiful speech starting at 49:02 centered around this poem.
There is this cave“The Jewel” by James Wright
In the air behind my body
That nobody is going to touch:
A cloister, a silence
Closing around a blossom of fire.
When I stand upright in the wind,
My bones turn to dark emeralds.
Will spoke about how this poem served him like a prayer after he left Cistercian and ventured out into a world that would be mostly hostile to his faith and values. He asks the question, do I give in to the world or do I resist, holding on to what I know, and close myself off from the opposition? These are the alternatives most everyone is choosing between, but Will offered a third choice – to embrace the unanswerable and be vulnerable to the mystery. The only way to endure to the end of our journey is not control, but surrender. He connects back to the first co-valedictorian speech about humility and self-knowledge by saying that if you learn to listen to yourself, you can listen to others without being threatened.
I like what Will says about listening, and I would put it in the language of not judging others because we don’t know what is going on in their hearts. Only God knows all, so only he can judge. This does not mean that we shrink back from living and speaking the truth as we know it. We can be bold, humble, loving, and forgiving at the same time. This is how Jesus was in his earthly ministry.