Sometime in the 16th century it might have been appropriate for an academic like myself to carry an ungainly tool with no apparent use up a long hallway, leading a procession of hundreds draped in black-robes, but I'm not at all sure about today. Seems silly to me, but I'm doing it, one last time on Friday.
The ungainly tool is called a mace, and while Dordt College's model is beautifully created from an artful mix of ceramics and oak, this thing--it's huge really--is fundamentally anachronistic because whatever vital function a mace actually performed at one time, that function is long, long gone. So some stooge--me this year--carries this four-foot club up on the stage and directs the graduates exactly where to sit, performing some medieval role no one understands, not even the mace-lugger.
Some think wielding the mace is aptly ceremonial and touchingly traditional, like maybe ye olde portrait of very common folk gleaning after harvest-time--you seen that picture, portly farm wives leaning over in heavy skirts, a task now entirely taken over by beef cattle. What the heck is a mace anyway?
No matter. On Friday I will carry this thing as if I were some grave and sober majorette, leading a black phalanx of seniors in mortar board hats complete with dancing tassels. I'm not making this up. Thousands of people will be there to see it happen, and the whole place will wonder who on earth is that clown carrying that ridiculously big stick?--court jester?
I had to practice yesterday, walk through the exercise, an exercise, I'm told, my long-time mace-carrying predecessor took as seriously as Moses did when he raised his hands above the Red Sea. Me?--I just roll my eyes. "It's a privilege," the President told me when he conned me into it. Okay, then why doesn't he do it?
Yesterday I sat in a pew before 350 students who filled the stage and got instructions on how not to let their tassels get in the way when the school-appointed photographer snaps their pictures as the el Presidente conveys their sheepskin. Mostly, I thought, those soon-to-be grads looked dumbfounded.
High school graduations are really quite silly since basically you get a diploma for showing up. Oh, here and there one might encounter a test or a paper, but the national lament about our country's stinking educational system begins with high schools. Internationally, our third-graders are doing fine. Somewhere at the end of middle school things fall apart.
But college graduations mean something; if nothing else, the adding machine stops whirring. Once again, this Friday, the mere fact that kids are finally graduating from college creates such a huge collective parental sigh of relief that oxygen levels in the chapel get dangerously low.
But yesterday there I sat. Honestly, the whole bunch of 'em--the seniors--looked, well, scared. Who can blame them? Tons of them carry loans worth thousands of dollars. What's more, most of them are embarking on a life few of them foresee very clearly. Saturday morning they'll wake up in an economy that sports more than eight percent unemployment, and we live in a time of "the new normal." Wherever they start their first job, almost certainly, they'll start at the bottom. What's more, the sporting life of college life is now behind them.
Grad speeches rarely sink in because beneath those mortar boards nobody is thinking much about wisdom. Seniors are as deaf as mannequins. I know. I don't have a clue who spoke at any of my graduations. What's more, I've given those speeches and been no more memorable, I'm sure.
But this morning I just read a line in Mother Teresa that makes all sorts of sense, something I wish I could impart to all those enrob-ed students I'll be leading into the chapel on Friday. Maybe we ought to put it on t-shirts and make every one of them wear it beneath their robes. Here's what MT said: "Don't look for big things. . .just do small things with great love." Isn't that wonderful?
Maybe I ought to print it on a flag and sail it from the mace.
And then this: "The smaller the thing, the greater must be our love."
That's all that needs be said, methinks. No gloss, no footnotes, no touching illustration, no story. If we'd all listen to Mother Teresa, we'd live in a different world.
Even me. Blush. And that stupid mace--"small things with great love."
Okay. I swear I won't roll my eyes.