Remarks offered at the ISM Commencement Banquet, May 22, 2017
by Martin Jean
Dear graduates: I have one question for you: do you feel ready for all that lies ahead?
Obviously, I’m being provocative, but were you to answer yes, I might need some convincing!
While I want to avoid universal claims about how much the world has changed since you came to Yale, it’s hard not to feel that it seems different now. Daily, we hear about deep and deepening divisions between people here at home and abroad; leadership whose rhetoric promotes a very different ethos from that of past leaders. With our quickly-evolving modes of communication, we have a front row seat to violence and injustices that previous generations were shielded from, thanks to global media machines fueled by an insatiable hunger for customers to consume their clickable, shareable, statistics-driven ad-riddled revenue streams masquerading as content, who carefully design your experience to give you the exact information that aligns with the preferences you have already formed.
How do your new and shiny Yale degrees and ISM certificates hope to stand up against all of that?
I’ll come back to that in a minute.
When faced with a social landscape pock-marked with so much pain, I find myself drawing on ideas from my own Christian tradition, which values the principles of confession and hope. (And I hasten to add that Christians neither invented these ideas nor hold the last, or even best, word on them. But I can only speak from a perspective that I know best.)
As we send you on your way tomorrow, it is first incumbent on us, your elders, to admit that you are commencing this new chapter of your lives in a world that we helped to create. While trying to be the best versions of ourselves, we may not have done all we could to engage effectively across lines of difference, to seek a more just distribution of wealth, and to care for the earth on which we live. Don’t get me wrong: I believe our Institute and this University do many good things in these areas, but we are prone to apathy and self-indulgence. We are very good at protecting our own interests and positions, and perhaps not so good at doing this for others. In light of this, if you have the capacity for prayer or good thoughts or good ideas, I would ask for these from you in large measure, so that the work we do here is constantly under reform and reconsideration.
The hard truth is that no mere rhetoric improves the world as it awaits you the day after your graduation. And yet, despite that fact, I am still filled with hope.
The hope springs all over again from my witnessing of the work you have done these past years: proving yourself victorious in the face of challenging tasks; finding new ways to be brave when faced with difference, personal hardship, and new ideas; drawing on your seemingly endless capacity to create and innovate through sound, image, text, gesture, ritual. Most of all, I have been impressed by your hunger for at least two things of priceless worth: for justice, by which I mean a vision for and desire to change that which does not seem to fit in the world of God’s design. Secondly, you have hungered for mercy – for understanding, for empathy, for friendship, and for an expanded capacity for love and joy.
No one, let alone yourselves, should expect you to accomplish your mission of justice- and mercy-making overnight. To be sure, the work that needs doing can happen by revolution, but more often it happens one brush stroke at a time, through one beautifully shaped musical phrase, or one carefully chosen word. It happens in the parishes you will serve and with the students you will teach. It happens through your leadership, your audiences, your collaborators, and through your own self-care.
I believe you will find that your Yale degrees and certificates do hold some currency in the world, and if they do, it is in part because they are symbols of your own gifts and strengths, which we honor this weekend, from which we learn and benefit daily, and which continue to inspire us, your teachers. Congratulations and best wishes to you all.
2017 Prizes and Scholarships
The Hugh Giles Prize | Kathleen Kilcup and Abigail Storch
The Hugh Porter Prize | Brendan Dempsey and Ambre Dromgoole
The Edwin Stanley Seder Prize | Oana Marian
The Aidan Kavanagh Achievement Prize | Mark Schultz
The Director’s Prize (best Colloquium presentation) | Hannah Carr & Molly Channon
The Richard Paul DeLong Prize | Janet Yieh and Matthew Cramer
The Faculty Prize | Katherine Scahill
The Margot Fassler Prize in the Performance of Sacred Music | Daniel McGrew, Nathan Reiff, and Natasha Schnur
The Liturgical Studies Prize | Stephen McCarthy
Students’ Choice for Best Colloquium Presentation | Brendan Dempsey, Daniel McGrew and Samuel Ernest
The Robert Baker Scholarship | Josiah Hamill
The Mary Baker Scholarship in Organ Accompanying | David Simon
The Hugh Porter Scholarship | Addy Sterrett
The E. Stanley Seder Scholarship | David McNeil
The Louise E. MacLean Scholarship | Laura Worden
The Dominique de Menil Scholarship | Emily Wing
ISM Community Award | Jonathan Sanchez