Friday, May 25, 2012

Compelled forward

        I love this time of year at the University of Denver!  There's an almost tangible sense of finality and anticipation that pervades the campus.  Classes are winding down; the summer looms.  For some, not only are classes winding down, but so are collegiate, or graduate school, years.  Some will leave campus not to return except, perhaps, for homecoming or some other event.  Many have pretty firm plans about the summer and beyond.  Others are less certain.  The sense isn't limited to students!  Faculty have research plans that engage them.  Staff are anticipating some "down-time" to finally get to those big piles of files that seem to multiply every night.  Pretty much everyone is looking forward to some vacation.
       But it's not just university students that I see.  In my daily walk to and from the fitness center, I see scores of high school students in gowns with proud parents wildly snapping photos.  Magness Arena -- site of Pioneer hockey and basketball games -- also plays host to many high school commencements over a two week period.  Given that these students come from all over Denver, the diversity is quite amazing.  The sense of satisfaction, celebration and optimism that I feel on the main campus is just as palpable there.  It makes me happy to walk by them all (and I don't even mind them looking in the windows and watching me do strange bodily contortions called "exercises").
      What these students are doing, and what the DU graduates will be doing in a couple of weeks, is "commencing."  Certainly there is celebration of what has been learned and achieved, of hurdles overcome, of struggles vanquished.  But what is also a reality for many is that they are much closer to arriving at the tangible answer to that question that we've all been asked:  "What do you want to be when you grow up?" or "What do you want to do after you're done with your education?"  We've all had to answer that.  Whether or not we've ended up where we hoped or expected, the questions gave us a vision of what is possible, of where we might employ our talents and strengths in a meaningful way.  In short, as awkward as those questions might have made us feel, they prodded us to give voice to a vision.
       In the Hebrew Bible's book of Proverbs, the sage wrote "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (29.18, King James Version).  I know I'm taking this a bit out of context, but there is something here I believe is worth recalling.  My suspicion is that most of the graduates this spring are not going to spend as much time thinking about some test that didn't go as well as they'd hoped, or about the touchdown pass that they dropped, or about the blind date that was horrible.  They will more likely be focused on what they want to achieve now that this particular milestone is behind them:  "There's that new job awaiting me!"  "I can't believe graduate school starts in just a few weeks!"  In other words, the focus on the future is more compelling than a view of the past.
       Do we have compelling visions of our future?  Or are we simply trying to avoid the mistakes of the past . . .  or to recreate an idyllic past that probably never was?  Or, as Jackie Kelm writes:  "Focusing our attention on what we do want will create more of it, while focusing on what we don't want will create more of that as well.  If we focus on how we 'never have enough money,' what we create in our lives is 'not enough money.'"  A little later she writes, "It is important to ask about what we want more of, and not less."*  In other words, is our vision expansive enough to draw us--corporately or individually --beyond where we are now?  Expansive, and compelling enough, to sustain us as we move to the next level?
       Congratulations, graduates!  Vision boldly.  And commence!


* Kelm, Jacqueline Bascobert.  Appreciative Living:  The Principles of Appreciative Inquiry in Personal Life  (Wake Forest:  Venet Publishers, 2005), 41, 64.

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