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Keystone College Commencement 2017

What a wonderful day to celebrate 146 years of graduates finishing their time at Keystone College and stepping out into the world to make a positive difference! Parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, spouses, cousins, friends, neighbors, and companions: thank you for supporting these graduates in their quest to attend and succeed at Keystone College. The sacrifices you have made both emotionally and financially will have a long-lasting, positive effect for the next hundred years on your families and communities.

In particular, parents, when you let your sons and daughters go, when you let them fly with their own wings, when you encouraged them come to Keystone, you gave them a chance at a life now full of possibilities as they join more than 17,000 alumni found in every walk of life in this community, region, and the world.

Students, thank you for trusting in the Keystone Promise and selecting us. Thank you for choosing to persevere when others left. Thank you for giving 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—a brilliant beacon of “progress through persistent effort” (our College motto is via fit-vi). You believed in us, you belonged to and persevered in a thoughtful community, and you have become bright adults, full of promise and promises kept. And along the journey you have made friends for life and learned with top notch professors and teachers.

Thomas Edison is often credited with the invention of a practical light bulb in his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, where he and his team tested more than 3,000 designs for bulbs between 1878 and 1880. When he created a practical light bulb, our lives and the ways we engaged darkness, night, work, travel, and leisure time were changed forever. Most of you have also probably heard of the company that he started in 1892 called General Electric. The company contributed greatly to the development of the electrification of railways in the late 1880s, which was a boon to this area. GE eventually became a diversified, worldwide company, but before 1979, its image was primarily that of incandescent light bulbs and an appliance company. Today, lighting choices have expanded and people can choose different types of light bulbs, including compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs and LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes).

But around 1979, General Electric sought to focus on its diversity of products and services and developed the marketing phrase, “We bring good things to life.” This brand promise was a reflection of a company that had moved beyond its origins as an electric generating company and maker of electrical appliances. GE’s current articulation, “Imagination at work” highlights that appliances and numerous conveniences have brought new life and imagination into our lives, but in my unconscious mind, GE is still mostly about lights.

And we all live most of our lives around light. Sunrises, sunsets, starlight, moonlight, lightening, or when we were children fearful of the dark, nightlights gave us comfort. Other kinds of important lights are traffic lights, the red flashing lights of a police car behind your car (!), or more playful lights such as birthday candles, holiday lights, street lights on a summer’s day illuminating a kickball or stickball game, or the ray of a flashlight hitting us during a child’s game of flashlight tag.

One of my favorite kinds of light is nature’s summer lights, sometimes called lightening bugs or fireflies. As a young boy, I remember catching fireflies in a glass mason jar [just like this one] and gently shaking them to provoke an increased glow. Scientists call this kind of light produced by these small insects, bioluminescence—the nightlights of nature. And it seems that life on earth is inclined to interact with and produce light, since bioluminescence has arisen more than forty times in evolutionary history.

Metaphorically speaking, bioluminescence has evolved 350 times in the history of each and every one of you graduates, today! Although we saw you dimly at the beginning of your college journey, we knew you were inclined to interact with and produce light, and now we clearly recognize you as bright lights going into a world that definitely needs some illumination.

A Keystone College education enables you to know important facts and skills to get a good job, but also helps to integrate the sensibilities, virtues, and contexts of learning for a career or profession, so that you know how to think, how to learn, how to live a life of meaning and purpose. Measure your life’s meaning by the light you share and nothing else—not money, not power, not popularity, not material goods, not social status—none of these ever-changing and dimly-perceived things will ultimately matter. Keystone brings light to the mind, heart, and soul and opens doors to a life-long education.

So it seems that Keystone brings good things, good ideas to light, and we bring good people together to share a better life. And yes, we are also “imagination at work,” where we critically and creatively continue the Great Conversation with culture, values, and personal achievements into an uncharted future of rapidly-changing sunrises.

Apparently, catching fireflies is something of an archetypal experience, as Julie Brinckloe’s 1985 children’s book, Fireflies! (Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), recounts the story of a young boy who is proud of catching a jar full of fireflies, which seems to him like owning a piece of moonlight. But as the lights began to dim, he realizes that he must set the fireflies free or they will die. Similarly, Keystone College is a bit like catching lightening bugs or fireflies. We were drawn to the light of your talents and gifts and believed in your potential. We gently shook you up in an organized way and let you shine together, and now we confidently set you free to bring light, intelligence, compassion, goodness, and beauty to the world. Ironically, we caught you, caught you up, and now you have captured our hearts—and we are beaming with pride for you.

The people on our journey who were lost to us in our family and friends, whose empty chairs we have reserved in the front row as a remembrance of their lives, also fill us with the warmth of their illumination. May I suggest that you generously share your light today and make a special effort to show your gratitude to your parents, family, friends, teachers, and all those who made this day possible? Being thankful and grateful is a beautiful sharing of light.

And so, today we celebrate you, graduates, and your families as one community comprised of many diverse members. If along the way you or we have been careless, thoughtless, or we have let you down, then let us know so that we can try to make it right. It is never too late to repair a wrong, and it is never too late to reconcile, to choose wholeness and healing. We are convinced that it is better to live a generous life, an examined life, an interdependent life, and a virtuous life lived in in the light of truth. 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.

Finally, I invite you to nurture a heart that is willing to learn something new every day. Be open to surprises, think critically and creatively, forgive quickly, and be unafraid to wrestle with impasse or difficult issues. Live your lives fully in a profession, a career, a cause, a community, a promise, and make your heart and home full of light and song, as we have tried to do here in this caring and dynamic College. I hope that you will come back to visit us often. Look for fireflies and fiery sunsets and the leaves that appear to blaze in late autumn that signal a new academic year has begun at Keystone College, and come back to enjoy Homecoming Weekend.

The American poet, journalist, humanist, and transcendentalist, Walt Whitman, described in his poem, “There Was a Child Went Forth,” a world that is dimmed at times by the “doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time—the curious whether and how, whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks?” (Whitman, 1900) But today we celebrate that we are more than flashes and specks. We are all connected in sustained light, life, imagination, and love. We are inclined to interact with and emanate light. And when we kindle kindness, generate goodness, and shed just a little light, we also experience that kindness, goodness and light ourselves.

We can feel it in our pounding hearts that we are bound together in this task and we share the road that is lit for all of us. Just shed a little light wherever you go so that its warmth and inspiration will have a lasting effect in your relationships and the world.

[Keystone College Chorale sings, “Shed A Little Light” by James Taylor, 1991.]

President David L. Coppola, Ph.D.