When Jim Chinworth, the campus pastor,
asked me to speak at baccalaureate, I was hesitant to say yes for
First, I’ve learned while at
Manchester that one should always be cautious when saying yes to a
pastor. They are on the side of God and are sneaky, and if you
aren’t careful, you may find yourself on a plane to a country you’ve
never heard of in Africa. Be warned, friends: It happened to me,
and it could happen to you.
Secondly, I was nervous about the
topic: What have I learned at Manchester College and what will I
carry with me as I leave this place? As I reflected on these last
four years, I realized that I have learned much here and that I have
changed in ways that I will carry with me for a long time. I also
realized that synthesizing those experiences would create precisely
the type of speech that one does not give at baccalaureate.
Over these last four years, I’ve seen
a lot. If there is one thing that Manchester has been good at, it’s
getting me off the campus. Through classes and school-sponsored
grants, I’ve traveled literally around the world; learning, working,
and studying in 10 different countries spread across five
continents. I’ve been to the edges of the earth and what I’ve seen
there isn’t good.
While in Northern Ireland, I saw the
street corners where youth gather on warm summer nights to burn
bonfires of destruction, caught up in a tradition of hatred and
frustration. I walked by the hospitals surrounded by chain-linked
fences that can’t be built high enough to keep out the handmade
bombs that are thrown over the top.
Daily during my semester abroad in
Ecuador, I walked by starving children begging in the streets, on my
way to a university where the majority of the students drove BMWs to
I did get on that plane to Togo and
Benin in Africa and spent a week listening to the stories of women
so abused and trapped by their families, society, and government
that they wake up each morning wondering if they and their children
will survive the day.
I worked alongside fully competent
Nicaraguan doctors who had to watch their patients suffer from fully
treatable complaints; their hands of healing stopped by the empty
pharmacies. They wait on medicines held up because of choices of my
government and theirs.
In Thailand, I worked at a leprosy
hospital and held people dying of diseases that have been cured for
decades, but who are trapped living as shadows in a society that is
not ready to admit that they can be healed.
In these last four years, I have seen
in every county and continent, in every hut and skyscraper, in the
faces of every person I’ve met, stories of fear, pain, and doubt.
And while all the travel has given me a nice passport stamp
collection, I never would have had to leave this campus to see any
I was here when calls and letters of
hate got sent to my lesbian, gay, and allied sisters and brothers,
threatening their place on this campus.
I was here when U.S. forces invaded
Iraq – making some people stand up in protest and others pack their
bags as their reserve number was called – and all of us were hurt,
It was here that I held friends who
were struggling with illnesses that threatened to overcome their
minds as well as their bodies, making them question their self-worth
and the worth of life.
It was here that close friends
betrayed me so deeply that I questioned the worth of trust and
relationship, and it was here that time and time I let others down,
failing to live up to the faith they had in me.
I was here as the banner proclaiming
peace was ripped down and burned on our mall in a confusing act of
vandalism and hatred.
I was here, and I know you were too.
In the last four years, I’ve born
witness to a force that is as elusive as it is omnipresent; a force
that seems to tear things down as fast as we can build them up. From
Chiang Mai to Garver Hall, I’ve watched fear grow and destroy,
threatening to overcome us. For four years I’ve fought entropy and
helplessness and I am tired. How I Came to Manchester, Got
Smacked in the Face with Reality, Became Bitter and Burnt out on
Life, however, just did not seem like the right title for a
speech to give on a day such as today.
Fortunately, while I was in the middle
of these reflections, a friend, a mentor, and one of my four (yes
four) academic advisors here at Manchester College, introduced me at
a banquet and publicly called out in me a talent for joy. In a time
when I saw my soul as a desert, she saw a spring and life. Thank
you, Dr. Lynne Margolies. As I sat, trying to reconcile these two
views of me, I realized that everything I have said up to this point
is exactly true, but I also realized that my story doesn’t end here.
As I sat, I learned what else I’ve learned at Manchester College.
In his speech, We Are the Ones that
We Have Been Waiting For, Jim Wallace of Sojourners Magazine
said that as he was growing up, his evangelical Christian community
taught that the biggest challenge he would ever have to face, the
biggest choice of his life, would be that between secularism and
belief – between immorality and morality. But he has found – and I
agree – that the greatest struggle of our times, the biggest choice
we will have to make, is that between cynicism and hope. This is how
my story for today ends: While I’ve been at Manchester College, I
have learned how to choose hope.
I can pick up the newspaper and find
all sorts of things to be cynical about: growing threats of nuclear
arms in Iran, rising suicide bombing, a bird pandemic that will kill
us all. Sound bytes smear the airways, reporting that the world is
not as it should be. But I can also go outside and watch people play
Frisbee on the mall, trying very hard – most of the time – not to
step on the roses. I catch glimpses of campus and community that, at
times, is exactly how it should be, and I choose hope.
This Hope is not an idealistic dream.
It is not a comfortable feeling of naivety and it is not
wishful thinking. It is decision, a conscience choice, and a way
So long as peace studies and
accounting can bring their differences to the basketball court to
raise food for the food pantry, I will choose hope.
So long as the Dr. Planer swears that
world peace can come by listening to the string quartets and
Beethoven, I will choose hope.
So long as we keep our curiosity, I
will choose hope.
So long as we can gather together when
we are hungry to eat soup, sometimes made by our own College
President, I will choose hope.
So long as we hold the silences sacred
as times to listen – to others, to ourselves, to God – I will choose
So long as we plant gardens, I will
So long as the Music Department
teaches that the rests are part of the music, I will choose hope.
So long as there are professors who
put chrome toilets on the steps of their students’ houses, and
students who know how to break into the Ad Building to fill their
professors’ offices with oak leaves, I will choose hope.
So long as we eat cheesecake to raise
money for those who need it most, I will choose hope.
So long as some of us keep traveling
and some of us stay here to tend the flame, I will choose hope.
So long as we continue to search for
God and meaning in Bible study, in community, in shared meals, in
hot buttered popcorn, I will choose hope.
So long as Dave Good makes us sing to
the flowers while we’re weeding, I will choose hope.
So long as our Science Department
finds ways to run the lawn mowers off the left-over grease from the
Union, I will choose hope.
So long as we continue to say yes to
our pastors and faith communities, I will choose hope.
So long as our professors and staff
continue to pretend to be a rock band, I will choose hope.
So long as we continue to be awakened
by the bells, so long as we continue to complain about (and maybe
even learn from) convo, so long as we continue to chase the
squirrels, so long as we continue to do the things that make us
uniquely us, I will choose hope.
So long as we continue to get up in
the mornings, even and especially after those nights that leave our
souls bruised and battered, I will choose hope.
I’ve spent four years here, and I
have seen, experienced and been a part of deep suffering in this
world. But I’ve also spent four years seeing, experiencing, and
being a part of this community and have witnessed what you all have
to offer. We have the conviction and the capability that we need to
ease the pain. We are the ones that we have been waiting for.
We are the answers to our own prayers for change.
What I’ve learned at Manchester
College is this: how to have the faith, ability, and courage to see
Light in a world that is so often dark.
Soon I will leave to go very far away,
and this is what I will carry with me: Because I knew you, because
I’ve seen what you can do, and because I know every day that you’ll
get up and keep doing it, I will choose hope.