In my talk at our Graduation Ceremony, I observed that the graduates probably know already that their strongest SMUS emotional tug, once they’ve gone, will be their friends. These are people they have had numerous meaningful experiences with, playing on teams, performing in the musical, challenging the outdoors, and more. It will be a community of friends. What will be the qualities other than friendship in this community? I next observed the intense affinity that pervades groups of alumni in times when our deepest beliefs and values are shaken, or attacked. Three weeks after September 11, 2001, our alum in New York, when I asked if they would still like my wife and I to come for our planned alumni reception, replied with a resounding “yes. It will be like a visit from home.” In the same vein, I observed that on the morning of July 7, 2005, Joan and I awoke in London after arriving the previous evening, to the sounds of silence, followed by sirens, followed by more silence, followed by sirens – over and over. Just an hour earlier a co-ordinated series of attacks had paralyzed the London subway system and buses, killing fifty-nine and wounding over seven hundred. That evening I expected our Alumni reception to be sparsely attended, or perhaps not attended at all. Instead, alums came from as far away as the southwest of England, some walked from kilometres away, others took taxis they managed to find, others stayed late at work so they could walk. Again: we were a living, breathing piece of home, something secure, enduring, and embracing. You see this desire for rootedness and permanence on occasion after occasion.
Our community is an organism of friendships, yes. There is a breath that breathes through that organism, and a heart that beats inside it. In those times when our values and foundations are shaken, we find that what forms this community of friendships are the purposes we all share. As a community we believe in excellence, we believe in passion and compassion, and we believe in the pursuit of truth and goodness. In the recesses of our imaginations we believe in a future that will reflect these virtues. Against people and forces that would deny this future, these ideals are our strength and foundation, our poetry and our music.
My wife, Joan, and I are happy to be among those thus shaped. Thank you to so many students, parents, colleagues, alumni and friends.