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President Coppola’s speech from Keystone College Commencement 2014

What a great day here on Bailey Field where graduation ceremonies have been celebrated for 143 years. As the 10th president and the 19th leader of this classic, comprehensive, and caring college community, it is a privilege to convene this family celebration in honor of our soon-to-be graduates.

There are so many conscious and unconscious choices that have brought us to this wonderful time, place, and day.

First, parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors, and companions; thank you for supporting these graduates in their choice to attend Keystone College. The sacrifices you have made both emotionally and financially will have a long-lasting and positive effect for the next hundred years on your families and communities. In particular, parents, when you let your sons or daughters go, when you let them come to school here, you gave them a chance and a life full of choices. You trusted us, and now we see the marvelous transformation before us today. And it looks great from where I am standing.

Students, thank you for trusting in the Keystone Promise and selecting us. Thank you for choosing to persevere when others left. Thank you for doing your best, even when you weren’t sure what your best was or which direction you wanted to go. Thank you for making this College—your college—and the surrounding community a bright, living beacon of “progress through effort” (our College motto).

We are formed by our values, hopes, choices, and actions. And the greatest choices we can make are those for love. The faculty and staff here at Keystone College have been here for you these past years to help you grow through love. Listening is a fundamental form of love* because it implies that the other person has dignity and is worthy of our singular attention. In a “ta da” world that says, “look at me!” we say, work hard together, be honest, reach out in friendship, and listen with care because every person has dignity and something important to offer.

Admittedly, students, we have probably talked a bit too much–which is why I am almost finished—but in our hearts, we were trying to listen to your dreams and desires, and we tried to honor your personal gifts and talents while calling you to stretch and grow beyond your comforts or complacency. In the process, you have helped us to grow, too. But if we have failed, let us know so that we can try to make it right. It is never too late to repair a wrong between two people and it is never too late to choose love. When we choose love, we choose forgiveness, trust, freedom, responsibility, civility, creativity, and commitment. This is at the heart of a liberal arts and sciences college. This is the hallmark of a Keystone College education.

On June 25, 1967, at the end of a very ambitious television show that had featured cultural performances from all over the world, aptly titled “Our World,” more than 150 million people in 26 countries watched the program end on black and white TVs with the singing of an anthem-like song by a music group from the United Kingdom called the Beatles. Although the verses of the song were a bit ambiguous and vague, the words written and sung by a gum-chewing John Lennon to the repetitive chorus were clear, “All you need is love.” (ta, da, da, da, da)

All you need is love. The ancient Greek philosophers would agree and described love in many ways but primarily in three expressions:

The first was eros, one’s desire, passion, that which drew one out of oneself and into the world of another or others.

The second way of understanding love is filios or philia—the love of friends, companions, neighbors, and family. Philadelphia is, at its best, a city named for brotherly and sisterly love.

And a third kind of love is agape—the self-sacrificing and selfless regard for the other even to the point of one’s own expense.

Today I invite you to choose love.

Choose eros, your passion for learning, a direction, a profession, a career, a cause, a person, a community. And in the commitment to your love, your passion, allow the tinder of tenderness and civility become a flame to burn brightly and energize you in the discouraging days that we all must encounter.

Choose filios—keep in touch with the friends, colleagues, and team members you have found here. With a little listening and effort, these relationships can last a lifetime and can bring color, humor, and depth to your lives. And when one of you succeeds, invite others into your success. And when another fails or suffers, be there to help and support each other. Make your heart and home places of hospitality and welcome, as we have tried to do here.

And finally, choose agape. Choose to be generous and selfless—choose to love as a parent loves. Choose to be loving parents and know that every day is a new day. You have already sacrificed for a friend who was struggling or sick, or you persevered all through the night trying to discover a small insight into wisdom, or you pursued a just cause, joined a team or group, or many of you even selflessly volunteered thousands of hours to help out strangers. This is love. This is the difference that a small, solid, caring, and powerful Pennsylvania college can make in your lives. This is the Keystone way.

The 6th Century BCE teacher, Confucius, taught, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

We say to you today, “Wherever you go, go with Keystone in your heart. Choose love and come back soon.” All you need is love. (ta, da, da, da, da)

*William Stringfellow (April 26, 1928 – March 2, 1985) was an American theologian and lawyer in East Harlem and described listening as, “a rare happening among human beings. You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or impressing the other, or if you are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or if you are debating about whether the word being spoken is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered. Listening, in other words, is a primitive act of love, in which a person gives himself to another’s word, making himself accessible and vulnerable to that word.” Anthony Dancer. An Alien in a Strange Land: Theology in the Life of William Stringfellow. Eugene: Cascade (2011), p. 90.