Sunday, May 17, 2015


Can't leave the topic of commencement at Denison University without talking about Saturday's commencement exercises, where the commencement speaker, Deirdre McCloskey, presented something much more tangible about "wonder"—that word which was the theme of Friday's baccalaureate services.

Not that she used the vague word wonder. No—she told the students she was giving them two rules that she hoped they'd remember, while acknowledging, as commencement speakers do, that she didn't remember anything from the speaker at her own college graduation.

But two rules--even I in late middle age can remember that much. I hope some of those graduates remember them too, because they were good rules, tangible things to do in every circumstance of life:

  1. Remember that humans need the transcendent, and 
  2. Always ask "So what?" 

The transcendent could be God, or the higher ethics of science. It could be family, or relationships, or art, or something else. She suggested religion was a source of transcendence and did so with the authenticity of someone in the academy who became a Christian in mid-life. "If," as she said, "You can call a progressive Episcopalian a Christian."

What's transcendent for you might change as you move through your life. She gave the young adult graduates the example of "coolness" being transcendent for middle school kids, with the clear implication that they were, ahem, well past that.

Asking "so what" is to ask, why does this matter? What does this new thing you've been told mean?
What difference will it make? I smiled at this. I think it's what I mean to do in this blog, hoping to discover something that transcends the orthodox answers of the catechism.

The beauty of Dr. McCloskey's speech was when she hooked up the two rules. Asking "so what?" she says, will lead you to the transcendent. Which, as she said again, is something all humans need.

Yup, I thought. That's advice that fits every stage, every dilemma, every moment of life.

It was a long afternoon at commencement. I will admit that I had my knitting with me. I was knitting socks and got quite a lot done. So what? These socks will warm the feet and the heart of someone I care about. Knitting transcends. It's love, in a blend of merino, nylon and angora.

And then the Class of 2015 rose, and all were granted their degrees. They lined up and crossed the stage one by one, my tall blonde son, Kurt, among them.

Kurt, I think, has been aware of the Transcendent all his life. This is one of his gifts—at least since the days when he was three or four and quietly crept out of bed in the morning to sit in the corner of the couch and watch "Little Bear" on TV.  Little Bear transcended being little with love from his mother, with gentle laughter, with learning. Our Kurt has asked a lot of "so what?" questions already in his life and many more loom in front of him. But he asks bravely. He answers thoughtfully, thoroughly. And he yearns for the Transcendent.

As do we all. Amen.                                              

1 comment:

Tara Meyer Dull said...

Thanks, Gwen. Wonderful piece.