The squeals of accomplishment and relief fill the air as the final bell rings on the last day of school. Finals still loom, but that’s all the way after the weekend. Until then, my juniors can bask in the accomplishment of their penultimate year of school. As has become tradition, I’ve written them a letter, and pass it on now to you.
A very merry last day of school to you! Today marks the eighth time that I’ve sat down in late spring—torn between a million tasks and the lassitude of approaching summer—to bid a class farewell. It’s a tradition I enjoy, though at every step there’s a temptation to be trite, banal, trivial, perfunctory, or any of the other synonyms for “lame” you’ve learned this year. I could use my final photocopy to give rules to live by or hard-won personal advice; but I know that you’d only remember the silliest rule from a list, and the decade head-start I have on most of you doesn’t qualify me for the kind of advice reserved for fictional wizards and dying prophets. So I’ll do what I’ve done before, telling you not what I’ve learned from 28 years of life, but what I’ve learned in the last nine months, this year with you.
Every class had a trademark. Some were criminally truant, others social activists. Here at BFA, my previous classes have been Canadian, incredibly genial, or intellectual revolutionaries. You, Class of 2014 (with a few intrepid seniors along for the ride), are the Class of Astonishment. When I think of our journey from the wide-eyed optimism of early American literature into the experimental edges of the last century, I’ll recall your surprise at the twists and turns that literature took at every stage. You were horrified by the romantic irony of Hawthorne’s resolutions and the Gatsby’s and Lennie’s grisly ends. Emily Dickinson muddied her own rhyme schemes for fun, Whitman was more verbose madman than poet, and E.E. Cummings practiced grammatical lawlessness on the edges of readability. Whether delightful, daring or sorrowful, literature seemed to stun you more often than not.
Whether you were surprised by charming verse, biting satire or heartbreaking realism, your shock does you credit. Literature is a mirror of the human condition; fictional or not, most of it reveals truth in the end. It is this quality of astonishment—wide-eyed observation of the beautiful and broken parts of the world we share—that makes you human. To pretend that you’ve seen it all before is to close your eyes to places you can serve or, worse yet, to miss the grand scope of God’s creativity and redemption. Whether here at BFA or in your next chapter, keep being surprised. You’ll never, ever see it all.
I’m thankful for the year we’ve spent together, thankful for your humor and creativity, the wode-awake lens through which you see the world. Soon we’ll scatter across continents, to summer and other homes. I’ll miss you, dear students, but in late summer most of us will be here again; you to busy seniors years, me to reading the deeply-held beliefs of a new group of juniors. Come and find me, and let’s keep talking. Until then, I pray that your summers are restful, rich in relationship and full of discoveries. Thank you for a wonderful year.
Peace in Christ,