SUNY New Paltz Commencement Address
© Janus Adams 2018
Thank you Dr. Christian – for your generosity, your spirit, for welcoming me home to my alma mater. Faculty. Staff. Parents. Families. Guests. DISTINGUISHED HONOREES: SUNY NEW PALTZ graduating Class of 2018! Congratulations! With the wind at your back and the power of the weather to keep us “riveted,” you made it!
Class of 2018 . . . give yourselves a hand!
Class of 2018 . . . give your parents and your professors a hand!
They’ve brought you to this day. And, what a day. Such is the commitment of RAIN to cleanse the world, rinse the mind; give us shared perspective and priority.
Class of 2018 . . . give your storm and your thunder a hand. It has cleared the way.
For my offering on this day: a story and a coda. Let’s just say: Graduations are in May for a reason. I know this one comes at just the right time for me. Reeling from the past year, the past week, I took to a lesson I learned right here as a young pianist; a story about the virtuoso pianist-composer Johannes Brahms. A passionate walker, he walked two hours a day –- every day.
As the story goes, a student asked him: “What can I do to perfect my keyboard technique?” “Go walking,” said Brahms. See the world. Listen to the music of life.
As April ebbed away, as Nature rebelled at our human propensity to get in her way, Nature -- the Mother of us all -- sent a blizzard, a volcano, even a tornado, where she’d rarely sent one before; to focus our sights.
Not sure how to absorb the information, I went walking.
It’s May. You can feel it in the air. Everywhere. Yes, there’s a reason commencements are in May: season of new beginnings.
Walking for the sheer joy of catching up with life, my lungs felt the air of privilege. I was filled with metaphor.
Skipping stones, I stumbled. And, believe me, standing steady for me as I recuperate from major back surgery at my stage of youth is no small feat. When skipping stones didn’t become stumbling blocks; landing on my own two feet, upright, the basics. I was thrilled!
With millions the world over enduring the shock of awesome imbalance, oh, the joy of recovering my balance. All Nature asked of me was empathy. Schools imploding. Bombs exploding. Ancient peoples displaced by the perilous tides -- victims of Nature and the forces of our nature. For so many, everything is gone but the certainty of uncertainty.
“There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land,” wrote Euripides in 431 BCE. Yet we go on. I walked on.
Why does May bring such challenges? What is it about contrarian May that also exudes such a sense of the may? The “I can” of it all?
Walking in Yellowstone after the fires of the late 1980s, I happened upon a new growth of aspens in a forest of dead trees. A Park ranger told me their secret of life. Aspens seize energy from otherwise devastating fires; regenerating themselves. Their seeds burst open by extreme heat, aspens have their best shot at life.
Hmmmmmm. I visited the park in May.
May: when Earth’s northern half springs to life fat with green. Green. Life. That’s the story. And, the coda:
Seeking words to share with you and to express my gratitude for this honorary doctorate, I’ve been inspired by the example of one of the world’s great teachers. His holistic view of the world, his sense of identity at one with nature, his remembering from whence he came, his sense of himself in the larger scheme of things.
Awarded his honorary DOCTOR OF AMPHIBIOUS LETTERS on this very day in 1996, said KERMIT D. FROG:
“On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.”
Now that’s the kind of “protectionism” that makes sense. “Draining the swamp” without regard for the ecosystems necessary for all our survival? (Not so much.)
C’mon. "It’s not easy being green."
And that, dear graduates, is a thing to which I know you relate.
For “green is the color of spring” — the color of new life; of youth.
“Green can be big and friendly like” — like your spirit and your heart.
“Green can be big as a mountain” — like the challenges you will overcome and all you will achieve as you climb.
“Or tall as a tree” — from seedlings and acorns those who love you have watched you grow.
But “when green is all there is to be” — when others come at you with all their questions and fears and pressures.
“It can make you wonder why, but why wonder why wonder.”
You are green, you’ll do just fine. You are beautiful and we know it’s what you really ought to be.
Class of 2018 . . . in the wondrous fulfillment of your being GREEN is the potential and the power to be all you are at one with the universe. Go now. Be green. Be great. Go walking!
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“Bein’ Green” Kermit D. Frog’s theme song (aka "It's Not Easy Being Green") © Joe Raposo 1970