Bishop’s Mantle column by Jim Bishop
The 2006-07 academic year at Eastern Mennonite University is almost history. To this observer, each seems to go by faster than the previous one.
Sunday, the 89th annual commencement at EMU, will be my 36th to cover in my role as public-information officer. I’ve heard many speeches and watched hundreds of students walk the gangplank, receive their sheepskins and exit the platform as full-fledged alumni, with all the rights, honors, duties and fund-appeals ascribed thereunto.
It strikes me up side the head that it will be 40 years since my own graduation from this noble institution. To paraphrase recording artist Bob Seger, “Forty years, where’d they go? Forty years, I don’t know …”
In my cobwebbed cranium I still visualize sitting at a desk in a poorly-lit classroom on second floor of the old administration building (which burned down in January 1984 while being renovated) on a warm May afternoon, taking my last exam, an English literature final for the late J. Herbert Martin. I gazed out the open window many times while sweating over the test, a series of subjective questions, as the realization sunk in that “this is it.” Unless my grade point average states otherwise, I’ll graduate in several days, my checkered college career is over, my first “real” job – a writing-editing assignment in Elkhart, Ind., would begin one week later. Come July, I’d head to eastern Pennsylvania to marry the gal I met as a college sophomore and courted for three years.
A strange mix of joy, anxiety and sadness swept over me at the prospects of this seminal stage of life about to undergo a major shift. Those four years went by so quickly as I sought clarity on what direction I should go, even as I struggled to surrender the former things that seemed so important and yet keep in focus from whence I had come.
Quoting Bro. Seger again, as I think of my commencement exercises held outdoors on a sunny, warm afternoon, our class being the first to wear academic regalia – “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then …”
I can’t even tell you who spoke at the graduation of the EMU class of 1967. But, if given the opportunity to step aboard Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine and return to that milestone moment in time, there are several things I wish he – I’m sure the speaker was male – would have said:
– One of the chief benefits of your time in college are the relationships made there and lessons learned from them that are likely to remain long after facts gleaned in the classroom are vague memories.
– The “real world” can be found right there on campus, not just “out there,” but that realization won’t totally sink in until you’re in the workplace awhile and drawing on skills and knowledge gleaned in the laboratory of learning.
– Some courses that you had to take to fulfill academic requirements that you questioned the value of may not become clear until you’re out of school awhile. Public speaking, three typing/business classes and a course on biblical ethics have proven invaluable to my writing-editing/public relations work of the past 40 years.
– Life is not fair, but that’s no excuse to retreat from taking personal responsibility for one’s own actions and decisions rather than looking for a handy scapegoat.
– Rude awakenings will be your lot as soon as you bid farewell to the halls of ivy. It won’t take long for the reality to hit of getting up every day and being at work at 8 a.m. or earlier or for most of your meager paycheck going for groceries and housing. Sleeping in, except for an occasional Saturday, will no longer be a way of life as it often was during those college daze.
– Don’t put off doing things you’re able to do today. Maximize the present moment. Each of us has the same 24 hours to invest either wisely or recklessly. Aim high, but don’t overextend yourself. Smile, whistle and laugh often. Finish one task before starting another. I can attest that certain things will keep getting harder to accomplish as you grow older. Just do it. Now.
– Invest in the future. It may seem like I’m contradicting the above, but my point here is to plan, dream and set realistic personal goals that allow you to maximize the present. In so doing, one is better prepared to face the future unknown.
– Every so often, do something completely different, spontaneous, out of character or risky – as long as it’s legal – and life will never become dull.
– Rotate your tires every 6,000-8,000 miles; floss daily; laugh often; don’t be ashamed to cry; take dancing lessons; own a convertible at some point in your life; spend more time with books than with TV or video games; spend some time in meditation and reflection each day.
Speaking of which:
– When you see a spectacular sunset, don’t forget Whom to thank.
From my vantage point 40 years later, I offer congratulations to all who will graduate this weekend and many others in the weeks ahead. Turn the page with confidence to the next chapter of your lives and make a difference – for yourself, for others, for eternity. God bless you.
Jim Bishop is the public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University.