Revelations from today's initiation
Today I became a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, an organization that binds lovers of wisdom to a common purpose and calls on them to rule their lives with the love of learning. Dr. Michael Hennessy, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Texas State University, delivered the keynote speech at the afternoon initiation ceremony for the university’s chapter. I left the event thoroughly empowered and newly aware of how close I am to the next stage of my life, especially thanks to the ending of Dr. Hennessy’s speech.
“Pursue what you love and what you enjoy. I hope that for each of you, your time as a student has given you patience to reflect on what does and does not engage you; on what, for you, has purpose and value. Many of you, I know, have jobs, family commitments, and very busy lives outside of school. Nevertheless, I hope that your time at Texas State has given you a patience for exploration, discernment, and self-reflection; time to think about the big questions, the “Who am I” and “Why am I here” kinds of questions that are increasingly difficult to find time to explore in our rapid-motion lives.
I’m currently in my fortieth year as an English professor. 36 of those years have been at Texas State. And though I’ve been an administrator for 14 of the 40, I still regard teaching as my vocation. In particular, I have a passion for poetry; studying it, reading it, hearing it, and teaching it. So I’d like to end today by reading you a section of Walt Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself, first published in 1855 even though it sounds like it could have been written yesterday, remarkably. He knew how to talk to people 150 years later. The speaker in the poem is a guide or mentor talking directly to us, the people of the future. And I think he’s also talking to students, urging us to set off with him on a metaphorical journal of discovery. And here’s what he says:
Each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
In your remaining time at Texas State, and in years after, I hope you will, as Whitman says, ask many questions and be a bold swimmer. I hope too that you will remain a lifelong student and foster a sense of vocation regardless of what road you travel.”
“In your remaining time at Texas State...” It wasn’t until those exact words that it fully sunk in how close I am to launching a new phase of drastic growth and exploration in my career, leaving the state I was born and raised in and the university where I began everything. Following my first completed grad school application earlier today, I realized the whole “grad school chapter” wasn’t really my future anymore, but my present. All of the service organization involvement, nonprofit work, and scholarships are materializing into the farthest part of my future I could imagine as a kid; grad school.
I learned during my undergrad career how many homes you can create in a community, how complex and intertwined social issues are, and just how much luck favors the prepared. I had my preconceptions of “progress” and “success” shaken apart, learned to value resting the way I do working, and began listening to the voice of Love over the voice of Righteousness. I couldn’t have asked for a better university to begin my college career and find my vocation. I have countless professors and administrators to thank for my growth that went beyond academic expectations. Thank you Texas State, and thank you San Marcos, for creating the community where I found my love for lifelong learning.