Delivered at the ISM Commencement Banquet, May 20, 2018
Many of us leave soon for the ISM Study Tour to Spain, where, among many other things, Schola will reprise Joby Talbott’s “Path of Miracles” along the Camino road to Santiago de Compostela. In light of this, the temptation to riff on pilgrimage is too great to resist, even though I see plainly the minefield of clichés before me. You’ll applaud my restraint, I think, if I decline to comment on the “journey” you are about to embark on in your lives, or to remind you that the road ahead may be rough and full of pitfalls!
The idea of pilgrimage is often conflated with notions of progress. For example, we think of summoning up the courage or fortitude to overcome great adversity, and of long treks into wilderness, fraught with perils and hardships. But no pilgrimage is only this. It could be misguided to reduce it merely to a line connecting two points with a well-defined beginning, middle, and an end. As inspiring as it might be to hold in your mind’s eye an image like the great cathedral of Santiago soaring above the horizon as the ultimate goal of your personal Camino, this model might easily devolve to tropes around modern capitalism, thereby reducing pilgrimage to a single-minded, autonomous, self-improvement program designed to achieve your goal, no matter what it is, and no matter what the cost.
But as we’ve learned, no pilgrimage worthy of the name is ever only this. As it is, we know many pilgrimage roads are filled with multiple destinations of their own. We find stations along the way to help us to reflect, to learn, to breathe, to be.
I am more inspired by the notion of pilgrimage as the juxtaposition of the traveler or pilgrim (peregrinus) and the image (imago) or that which stands in for something holy, something sacred, some glimpse of the divine – “pilgrim-images,” the essence of virtually every encounter we make in life. We are all pilgrims at every point.
I have many hopes for you as you leave this place. I hope you have learned something more about who you are as people, thinkers, and artists. You have already impressed us with your many skills – some of them acquired and developed here – in performance, in analysis, in art and ritual, and as you move on from this place, I hope that you will recognize yourself to be a significant contributor to our diverse and vibrant world, and that you come to see that you and your talents are part of a much larger matrix of people and gifts that lie in store. You will find that these gifts you will encounter and the people and places that hold them become the imago. Every single encounter with them becomes a kind of sacred pilgrimage.
I can promise you, these pilgrimages, as we are defining them, will not take the form of a logical path with an A, B, and C sequence, but they will more often occur in the random, the accidental, and the surprising. You will experience them in the parishes that you serve, on the stages where you perform, and in the classrooms and galleries and libraries where you study and teach. These gifts will come from conductors and leaders who inspire you; they will also come from out-of-sync section leaders and belligerent businesspeople. You will find them in brilliant students and in students who take every last ounce of all you can offer. They will come from people both rich and poor in mind, body, and spirit.
Therefore, you will act as pilgrim time and time again, as you move from one such encounter to the next. Each time you will meet something at once familiar and new, comforting and challenging. And I believe that as you do this, you will encounter the divine every time. Even if your worldview does not find value in the terms “sacred” or “holy,” perhaps you will at least agree that these encounters with people and places have the potential of being precious – each one a pearl of great value.
And here’s one more thing: As you face these icons of priceless worth, you will find them to be even more precious as you come to realize your own pricelessness. We see worth in others as we come to find worthiness in ourselves. As you grow in confidence and wisdom, and as you become more comfortable in your own skin, the “others” you will encounter will seem less like strangers and more like friends.
At the recent royal wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle, we heard Bishop Curry’s inspiring words celebrating the redemptive power of love. There is so much about you that is lovable: your courage, your vision, your determination, your stubbornness, your passion, your fallibilities. All of these are so very lovable. As you allow others to love you, you will learn to love yourselves more. And as you learn to love yourselves more, you will discover more and more the capacity to love those you encounter – every person and animal and tree and stone under the sun – all uniting together, inflamed by the Spirit, in one holy work of love.
2018 Prizes and Scholarships
The Hugh Giles Prize
The Hugh Porter Prize
William Doreza and Samuel Stella
The Edwin Stanley Seder Prize
Ting Bok and Abigail Storch
The Aidan Kavanagh Achievement Prize
Sally Hansen and David McNeil, Jr.
The Director’s Prize (best Colloquium presentation)
David McNeil, Jr. (solo presentation)
Kathleen Kilcup, James Simon Lee & Abigail Storch (team presentation)
The Richard Paul DeLong Prize
Octavia McAloon and Nicholas Quardokus
The Faculty Prize
Kathleen Kilcup and Jonathan Sanchez
The Margot Fassler Prize in the Performance of Sacred Music
James Reese and Janet Yieh
The Liturgical Studies Prize
Zachary Fletcher and Sze-Long Aaron Wong
Students’ Choice for Best Colloquium Presentation
Josiah Hamill & Laura Worden
ISM Community Award
James Simon Lee
The Robert Baker Scholarship
The Mary Baker Scholarship in Organ Accompanying
David von Behren
The Hugh Porter Scholarship
Edward Vogel and Emily Wing
The E. Stanley Seder Scholarship
Margaret Burk and Hannah Sachs
The Louise E. MacLean Scholarship
Chun Fung Andrew Hon and Carmen Denia
The Dominique de Menil Scholarship
Hans-Jacob Schmidt and Laura Worden