posted May 6, 2007

Graduates Urged to Live and Not Only Exist

Live fully and don't get caught up in the rat race, speaker Dianne Portfleet encouraged the graduating Class of 2007 during Hope College's Commencement on Sunday, May 6.

"The father of an author I enjoy reading once wrote her a postcard. And there was only one short line on the postcard. And on it he said, 'Never forget, even if you win at the rat race of life, you are still a rat,'" said Portfleet, an adjunct associate professor of English in her address "The Battle to Become Human."

"And my advice to each of you today - and anybody who has had me in class will know what I'm going to say--is 'get a life," she said. "Get a real life, not the artificial life, the rat race life, but get a real life."

Nearly 720 graduating seniors participated in the college's 142nd Commencement exercises, held at Holland Municipal Stadium. The class consisted of students from throughout the United States as well as Albania, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Kenya, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Switzerland.

Portfleet called on the graduates to reject focusing on the trappings of success and instead to live on a deeper level. "You are the only person who has sole custody of your life, your unique personality; and only you can fight your individual battle to live a real life, to become the most human you can be, to live the joyful, abundant life that Christ has offered to each of us."

It's the kind of language the graduates won't be likely to find in common usage, she said.

"People in our culture don't talk about the soul very much. It's so much easier to study, to work at our careers, or to stay busy than it is to craft a human soul," she said. "But the best career in the world, the highest paying job, the biggest house are cold comforts on days in your life's journey when everything seems dark and dreary, or when you are depressed, or when you're lonely, or when you've gotten back the medical test results, and they're not good, or when you've gotten that phone call that someone you love dearly has just died."

Portfleet shared perspective she gained through health struggles of her own. "When I was diagnosed with cancer, something really happened to me 11 years ago - a deep sense of how fragile life is entered my consciousness, and a few years later when my husband of 40 years was diagnosed also with cancer, this sense of the fragility of life surfaced again," she said.

Accordingly, as one route to authentic living she urged the graduates to cherish the time they have and the people with whom they share it.

"It is so easy to exist instead of to live," she said. "I hope that I learned to live many years ago and am still learning each day. And I urge you to treasure your friends, your family, the breath of air you inhale every moment, treasure this moment."

In the same way, Portfleet said, each day should be approached with a sense of wonder.

"Each time you look at your diploma, I want you to stop and remember that you are still a student and always will be a student - still learning how to love God, to love others, to live fully," she said. "Always maintain a childlike amazement at and openness to life."

"I want you to go out from graduation this day and face life deliberately," Portfleet said. "Find the true life and embrace it. Don't come to die and suddenly realize you have never truly lived."

Earlier in the day the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, delivered the Baccalaureate sermon, titled "Hope Does Not Disappoint Us." Kobia was also participating in the day's activities as a parent - his son Mutua was a member of the graduating class.

He based his text on Zechariah 9:12, "Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double," and Romans 5:5, "...and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Such hope, Kobia said, contrasts with the fear that both leads to despair concerning the challenges facing the world and provokes destruction itself.

"Why is there such wide-spread malaise about the future? It may be intensified by particular issues and events - like the tragic shootings on the campus of Virginia Tech last month, like the proliferation of poverty, like climate change, like HIV and AIDS, or unrelenting conflict in such places as Darfur in Sudan, Zimbabwe, northern Uganda, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "But at its base, the pessimistic view of many people grows out of a loss of faith, of belief in the possibility of positive outcomes in this world or indeed in the next."

Hope in God, Kobia said, offers with it the occasion to look beyond the challenges and issues of the day with optimism.

"Hope, like faith and love, is the human response to the gift of divine grace, to intimations that tragedy and severe affliction need not deter nor dishearten us as we move into our common future, to spiritually discerned evidence that human relationships, and the world itself, may be transformed for the better," he said. "Hope consists of a positive attitude toward the future - the immediate future, the long future, our ultimate future."

Equipped themselves with that hope and with lessons of their years in the community of Hope, he called on the graduates to act as agents of change in the world beyond campus.

"My hope is that you will each take that experience of growth and fellowship, that pattern of Hope, you will take it with you in coming days as you make your transition into other and new contexts," he said. "Class of 2007: take the best of Hope with you, and build an even broader community of hope wherever life may lead you."