LOYOLA MARYMOUNT GRADUATION SPEECH
May 2017

I thought I’d talk about love today. But I need your help.

ADS asks students to close their eyes and think about a love song that meant a lot to them during college. She asks parents to close their eyes and think about the songs they fell in love to. She asks all of the audience to hum songs, then to sing. A light cacophony emerges

The most popular love song on the billboard charts right now goes as follows:

Jump in the Cadillac
(Girl, let’s put some miles on it)
Anything you want
(Just to put a smile on you)
You deserve it baby, you deserve it all
And I’m gonna give it to you

Cool jewel be shining so bright
Strawberry champagne on ice
Lucky for you, that’s what I like, that’s what I like
Lucky for you, that’s what I like, that’s what I like

I’m talkin’ trips to Puerto Rico
Say the word and we go
I will never make a promise that I can’t keep
I promise that your smile ain’t gon’ never leave
Shopping sprees in Paris
Everything twenty-four karats (twenty-four karats)
Take a look in that mirror (take a look)
Now tell me who’s the fairest
Is it you? (is it you?) is it me? (is it me?)
Say it’s us (say it’s us) and I’ll agree, baby

Jump in the Cadillac
(Girl, let’s put some miles on it)
Anything you want
(Just to put a smile on you)
You deserve it baby, you deserve it all
And I’m gonna give it to you

Cool jewel be shining so bright
Strawberry champagne on ice
Lucky for you, that’s what I like, that’s what I like
Lucky for you, that’s what I like, that’s what I like

Who is the singer?

Is that the kind of love I am talking about?

No.

 


 

AGAPE

Dr. Hall, Chaplain and religion professor. when I was in college.

I put off taking his class, which was required, until the very end of my stay. I almost never went to class, and I turned in the final paper well past the very last stated deadline.

I wrote the paper on “Black Theology and Black Power,” a book by James Cone, now at Union Theological Seminary. I was inspired by Cone then, and forty years later too when I met him finally.

The response to the paper from Dr. Hall was enthusiastic. Over the top. I had “shredded it” as common parlance might put it now. I “nailed it” as we might have said a decade ago. I “aced it” as we may have said twenty years ago. Innate unschooled, clownish performer that I was in those days, I read Dr. Hall’s evaluation out loud to my friends. General hilarity ensued. No one actually expected me to pass the class, let alone, “shred” it. I concluded my performance with a flourish – I said “and he even signed it – ‘A-gaype!’ (pron.) They looked at me quizzically. “A-gaype.” I repeated with a shrug. “He’s so shocked his mouth is hanging open? Agape?” The philosophy major among us snatched the evaluation out of my hands “A – gah – pe! Not a-gaype”! This announcement elicited more peals of laughter from the group. We laughed a lot in those four years. Laughter was a healing force. It punctuated the dark absurdities and the real tragedies that marked our calendars from 1967-1971. It was a bloody time in the country and in the world.

Agape.

Universal, unconditional love.

Our world right now, does not feel so much like an agape world. And it did not when I graduated from college either. People compare our situation right now to the 60s. But-

Gloria Steinem, who has a way with words, said of Nixon’s ascendency to power:
“It took three murders to make him President: two Kennedys and Martin Luther King.”

We compare these days to the 60s. But it’s different.

In the 60s, many of us barely went to class. We spent much of our time dreaming up and writing down plans for new worlds that were more equitable, fairer to women, more kind to the environment and without any further tolerance for the war in Vietnam.

I have a feeling you have all been going to class. I have a feeling that you don’t depend on a school shut down, or a demonstration to save you from the fact that you have not studied for an exam. We did.

As a result of protest and activism, many things about our world in the 60s transformed for the better. By “for the better,” I mean, a less divided world. “Give Peace a Chance.” “All Power to the People.” “We Shall Overcome.” Women rising. “Save the Environment.” The needle moved a little. There was some transformation.

“All you need is love.” The John Lennon Love Call was different from the Bruno Mars Love Call.

Agape was part of the power of change. Part of the transformation.

 


 

ALUM

I am not sure when you officially become an alum. But it’s soon. It’s either in moments from now, or a couple days.

I could not help looking up the etymology of the word alumni, alumnus, alum—

It comes from the Latin for foster-son, (ward, charge)

The idea of alum as a foster child is interesting.

I think of alums as individuals who have beenfully woven into the texture of an organization.Of it – born out of it by the time you reach alum status.

A foster child, a ward, connotes one who is in need of a placement, who would otherwise be strands, stranded, outside of the fabric of society.

I can only think that the process of becoming an alum as we know alum to be is about more than football games, and shared memories of romance, pranks, near misses, and hard won accomplishments.

How did you get here today? How did you make your way into the character of Loyola Marymount University?
As a person who has taught for over 40 years now, I am aware that many students, spend a lot of their time as undergraduates, and even as graduates, struggling to endure the process of being educated, without a feeling of belongingness.

Some of you may have felt that way here at LMU. Most of you, I suspect, surpassed the feeling of alienation and found your niche, your wayin. Even for those of you who stood outside what you perceived as the norm, let me say – the fact is – no one just “fits in.” To “fit” you have to be a part of creating the fit for yourself and others around you.

For some of you, the others around you was a small group; for others it was a large group. You did not just fit,you helped make the fit, for those who were with you then, for those who came before you for those who are here now and for those who are yet to come.You arepart of the fit.

As you approach your alum status, you are now, a part of the history of LMU. You are part of its tapestry – even if you never quite fit. You are part of the reality, part of the wall hanging of LMU.

If only our cities, and our nation, and in places of discord today we could make tapestries out of the many strands that are loose – thefoster strands as it were. And even if we could accomplish this in neighborhoods and then across the neighborhoods of cities, there’s the exponentially more ambitious idea – of attempting to make a more woven world.

“Love your neighboras yourself.”

As you move into this world ask: “Are we at a moment when love your neighbor as yourself seems nearly fathomable? Or unfathomable?”

As you move to alum status ask: “As I move into the world, can I take my lessons, some hard, some easy, some accomplished, some not about fitting and not fitting into the world to become an agent ofthe fit, to become the person who helps others fit?”

And especially: If I felt as thought I never did fit, can I take the understanding of not fitting to create possibilities for others to experience a perfectly fitting environment with productivity and joy? Can I take mycritique of all the kept me outside, with its flaws and holes, to design an environment where more different kinds of people canfit?

You have learned many lessons from your experience of hopping and jumping from old ideas to new ideas; from simple ideas to more complex ideas; from complex ideas to simplified, refined ideas; from strangeness to friendship; from fear of the other to the courage to create a space where strangers meet. Take those lessons and make new ways of engaging.

It is easier to create a cohesive weave in a community with a stated mission, which is active and alive and resonant. It is harder to weave community where no one believes in the mission and where strangeness is the status quo. In the United States of America, we have a stated mission: “Towards a more perfect union.” Some would say “Towards a more perfect union” has seen better days. And yet President Obama, cited, many times during his tenure, the importance of applying dissent and critique tomake the more perfect union.

As I am several years away from my own undergraduate experience, I asked my whiz kid researcher Daniel Rattner, now four years out of Princeton, what he thought a new graduate needs to know. He sent me a long robust email. Here’s one thing he told me:

“In terms of tying that in to Loyola’s mission, they talk about the “education of the whole person” in their mission statement. College is in a lot of ways about cultivation of your self: indulging in your interests, passions, and work. But your education in college is not just academic. It is a training in how to be curious, how to be rigorous. You need to bring that training into the world at large. You need to create your own curriculum and syllabus for the world, be your own professor.”

Be your own Professor.

 


 

THE WEAVER

I know a weaver – an African American woman who crossed the Atlantic and showed up at a weaving school in Sweden without having applied for enrollment.   Her curiosity took her that far. But the school had only twelve looms, and they were all occupied. Somehow her curiosity outweighed the practical. And they brought in a thirteenth loom for her. Through practice she refined a technique of deliberately breaking the warp thread in the middle of her weaving.

As you know, the warp is the long thread, which has the tension to hold the weft or woof threads that going over and under it. To break a warp thread is ambitious. It requires a lot of effort to re store the break. Yet, what resulted in the work of Martha Jones was a beautiful design in the resulting piece of fabric. That design became what gave her artistry its identity.

I am not suggesting that we deliberately break our metaphoric warps. I merely call for creativity in how we think of weaving, of making community of loving beyond our home, our fence, our turf, our knowledge.

Walk in the world ACTIVELY looking for the warp thread.

 


 

HOSPITALITY

I want to say a few words about hospitality. And I don’t mean Marriott.

“Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, whether or not it has to do with a foreigner, an immigrant, an invited guest, or an unexpected visitor, whether or not the new arrival is the citizen of another country, a human, animal, or divine creature, a living or dead thing, male or female.”

That’s Jacques Derrida.

Become agents of hospitality.

So you see, I am not talking about Bruno Mars love which is about purchases, and objects and champagne and ice and Paris and shopping – which is cool – I love all that. But what I am talking about today is anextremist form of love.

 


 

EXTREMIST LOVE

Martin Luther King was a great lover of humankind. He wrote his Letter From a Birmingham Jail as an answer to southern white clergy identifying his non-violent actions and protests as “extremist”. Here what he said about that attack:

“…And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

“What kind of extremists will we be? Will we be extremists for hate, or for love?”

 


 

IN CONCLUSION

We need you to be extremists for love.

Agape, Amen.