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Keystone College Spring Honors Convocation 2018

Have you taken a walk lately? Do you walk for exercise, for relaxation or just for some quiet time? Have you walked around our back campus and discovered apple orchards, bee hives, a pond with an 80-year-old snapping turtle named Elmer, old farm walls, and even a cemetery dating back to the 1700s? Or perhaps you have taken a long walk with a friend on the rejuvenated trolley trail, just to catch up on life?

Health experts recommend that we should walk about 10,000 steps a day (about five miles) to stay healthy, and a number of people here at Keystone use a Fit Bit and count their steps. I am sure that counting your steps is important, but it is equally important to make your steps count. That is where Keystone’s Stairs to Success program helps, where your friends, faculty, staff, and family have encouraged you to keep walking, keep learning every day, every year, to fulfill your calling. The words of the Austrian poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, are apt:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . . And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. (Letters to a Young Poet, 1929)

Many religious and cultural stories are filled with people walking, journeying, traveling, crossing the River Styx, or the bridge to Asgaard, or to some greener pastures as in the story of the Three Billy Goats’ Gruff. In the Jewish-Christian scriptures, the main characters were semi-nomads such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—people always on the move to find water and vegetation for their herds and family members (Genesis). In Christianity, the story of disciples walking on the road to Emmaus became a significant moment of revelation (Luke 24). And in Islam, the fifth pillar, Hajj, invites Muslims to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during their lifetime (Qur’an, 22:27).

And in the American cultural mythos, we have many stories and subtexts of walking. In film, we have learned to “follow the yellow brick road” (Wizard of Oz, 1939), and we even have an entire genre called Westerns that describe the walking, traveling, and living conditions of early settlers of this country moving west. Songs invite us to “Walk This Way,” “Walk the Line,” “Walk It Off,” “Walk on By,” “Walk Forever By My Side,” and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” with the obligatory “do do doot. . . . “

And from the British writer, poet, and university professor, JRR Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy says, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door; you step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Tolkien invites the reader to take a risk, take a walk in the following song:

The Road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.

–“The Road Goes Ever On” by JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit (Chapter 19)

At Keystone we have many trails and paths. Our College invites us to take a walk and offers a moral journey that invites us all to live good lives. Walking is not simply concerned with one’s personal agenda but is more about growing into and becoming one’s best self with and for others. In short, walking is a kind of adventure that enables us to envision a better and healthier way of life, and we gain a new perspective and picture future improvement. Walking helps us to wrestle with our choices, mystery, confusion, and hope, and focuses the map of life’s journey to wisdom and integrity.

Perhaps in our carbohydrate-hyper-sensitivity, health-conscious society, that tends to focus its marketing on individual youth and personal achievement, we have been deprived of how a deep, broad, and inclusive vision can animate a community of people who “walk the walk.”

At Keystone College, we are part of an educational tradition that invites us to build a democracy made up of an educated and ethical citizenry. This tradition values the rule of law with associated rights and responsibilities, mutual respect, private and public security, diversity, and ethical engagement for the common good. When we walk together for the right reasons, then the strength of friendship forms a march of a vibrant community committed to the common good.

That Keystone educational tradition began a little over one hundred and fifty years ago when Charles Reynolds, Stephen Capwell, and James Frear met in Mr. Frear’s general merchandise store down the street in Factoryville, Pennsylvania, and lamented the lack of a proper preparatory school for young people seeking a college education. The secondary school system had not yet been established on a statewide basis. Several meetings ensued in the Factoryville Baptist Church, and later, in 1868, a charter was submitted to the Luzerne County Court. Harvey Bailey joined the group of these visionary founders who dared to walk up the hill, put a shovel in the ground, and start a school.

A century later, the American pastor and civil rights activist, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during a march for jobs and freedom on August 28, 1963, spoke to more than 250,000 supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and called for an end to racism and improved civil and economic rights. It was a walk that changed the world.

Nearly 55 years since that historic event, we have walked here to celebrate your extraordinary accomplishments. Thankfully, Keystone’s faculty and staff offer transformational learning opportunities and engagements that challenge you to walk farther than you ever thought possible. And students, you have chosen to go beyond what was required.

Those who have dared to walk onto this campus and stay, and acted with honor and humility, people such as you, witness to the Keystone difference. In a world that is imprisoned in cycles of fast talk, simplistic slogans, and false dualisms, the Keystone College experience reminds us to be bold, thoughtful, and act with ethical and proportionate restraint. Today we celebrate milestones and yes, we count our steps of progress but we also make our steps count.

We have walked here today united as a community of honor and excellence formed by the efforts that began in 1868.

We have walked here today to face new challenges and opportunities to make the world a better place for everyone. Of course, we all trip up at times and lose our footing, but the soul of noble and ethical human ambition is found in catching your balance and renewing your steps with confidence. Real leaders are forged through hard work, some failure, and renewed hope and persistence in the journey forward. Our motto, via fit vi, progress through effort, suits walkers very well.

For those graduating, we wish you could stay, but we know you must go and pursue the bittersweet parting that is inevitable. We will miss you. Walk with confidence and at this Honor’s Convocation and recommit to being honorable and persistent. Honor your promises, honor your commitments, honor your gifts and talents, honor your teachers wherever they are found, and honor your loved ones, especially your parents.

This part of your journey is nearing conclusion, but the journey of life-long learning continues. I vividly remember a song released by Paul McCartney and John Lennon around this time of year in 1970 (May, 1970) about a month after the Beatles had separated. It seems appropriate today:

The long and winding road that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here, leads me to your door.

Since the moment you walked on to this campus, we knew you would someday need to walk away as graduates. Live generously and in gratitude and know that the long and winding road always leads back here and you are always welcome. Just take a walk.

– President David L. Coppola, Ph.D.