A Privilege to Share the Stage

May 16th, 2005 @ 10:34 am | Author: By Ellen-Earle Chaffee
We had a perfectly wonderful commencement ceremony last Saturday. The auditorium was full, the families were beaming, the babies were crying, and the graduates had that far-away look in their eyes that told us they were already half-way gone to their next grand adventure.

Join me, please, as I relive a portion of my remarks and share a very special moment with you.

"As we look to the promising future that awaits these graduates, I want to remind us briefly of our heritage. We are in Vangstad Auditorium, named for Lena and Thilda Vangstad, identical twins who gave a combined 60 years of their remarkable lives to this university before retiring 35 years ago. Many of our outstanding alumni credit The Twins for instilling self-confidence and direction in them when they were young and vulnerable. They will celebrate their 104th birthday at their home in Minnesota this summer. They are VCSU's guardian angels, and they will watch over this year's class, too."

Noting that Jerry Topp, our distinguished, thought-provoking, and very humorous commencement speaker is a graduate from the class of 1974, I wondered aloud which of the members of this year's class might speak here 31 years from now.

I also shared again a quote from John Schaar that I repeat every year. It has become an important theme for me: "The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created-created first in mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination."

I said that we are blessed to have all National Guard soldiers from the Valley City area safely home, including sergeant and faculty member Joan Aus. "Two soldiers – Chad Worrell and Erik Gunnar Swanson - are in this graduating class, much later than they originally intended. We are grateful to all who serve our country, and especially to those in harm's way."

I then invited Gunnar to join me on the stage to read part of a message he had sent his friends about 28 months ago, the night before he left for Iraq without being able to complete his final semester at VCSU. He read to the audience what he had written at the end of that message as his intended graduation speech:

I want my friends to pay particular attention to this...I remember other actors asking me how to make their presence so big on stage. I told them that before I go out on stage, I say, no, I yell to myself "This is MY STAGE! This is mine! My stage!" Well I want to leave you with a thought pertaining to this, a quote by William Shakespeareö

"All the world is a stage."

Perhaps all we have to do to make our presence known, is to step out each day saying to ourselves "This is my stage! This is mine! My stage!"
Justifiably, the applause was long and loud. And I miss them all, already.