Its been a week of endings as I've attended breakups and Christmas parties for all sorts of groups to which I belong, and the graduation of my daughter with a postgraduate qualification that has taken a good deal of focus and commitment. I have found the thread linking all of these together has been the notion of "sending out" to a new stage of the journey, where learning does not end, but rather continues throughout life.
First we participated in the graduation from high school of a couple of hundred Year 13s. Some had excelled academically, others in sports or co-curricular activities, and some had just worked hard. When I was at school, there was only the prizegiving, and important as that event needs to be, it wasn't the time or place to say thank you and goodbye. These days a graduation ceremony - at the school in question this is combined with a Leavers' Chapel Service - provides an opportunity for students to relax around dining tables with parents and teachers, and say farewell to people they may have known at school for five, seven or in some cases thirteen years. A number of student leaders gave speeches, and took the opportunity to say thank you to both the parents who had supported them financially and emotionally through the years of schooling, and to special teachers who had inspired them along the way. There were some laughs and not a few tears, for these teens may never meet again, except on the pages of Facebook! Many gave advice to their peers about listening and learning, about embracing new opportunities, and about building on a firm foundation; one specifically quoted the parable of the Wise and Foolish builders. It was a heart-warming event and one which will be repeated in other schools in which I serve in governance. These splendid young folk were sent out with joy to continue learning through all their life.
At another event we prayed for and "commissioned" a young woman returning to her native Korea. We prayed that God will use the experience of some years living in New Zealand to give her a new perspective on both her family and her faith. As followers of Jesus we can expect the Holy Spirit to be present wherever our journey takes us, teaching us of Christ and reminding us of things we need to know. (John 16) In this case we were sending out more with sadness than joy, but that is often the way things turn out. Either way it is an opportunity for ongoing learning. And on a third occasion a group of women ministers planned to "send out" a ministerial colleague to a new parish in the South Island. As it happened, she was unable to attend the event due to illness, but we still cheerily toasted her future! The new congregation will be a place for her to keep listening and learning and to embrace the changes that are inevitable on a ministry journey.
The AUT graduation I attended with my daughter and her husband was obviously conducted with much more pomp and ceremony than the other events, though I missed the singing of Gaudeamus that was always included in our day! In its place was a significant portion of Maori welcome and greeting protocol and that is entirely appropriate. After the hundreds of graduands had been tapped on the head, and my daughter had proudly crossed the stage to receive her postgraduate diploma in Health Science, the only PhD for that day was awarded to an Indian woman called Shoba Nadar, who also gave the valedictory speech. Again the theme of being sent out to continue learning was the theme.
Dr Nayad had begun her university study as a mature student newly arrived from India. She qualified as an occupational therapist and began work in the mentla helth secptr. Over itme she noticed that the experience of immigration, and the cultural challenges that brings, played a part in mental illness among women. Trained to ask questions, and to exercise her intellectual curiosity, she engaged in Masters research that eventually led to her doctoral studies. Her speech was aimed at the new graduates, but was just as applicable to the old hands in the audience. What are your dreams? she asked. Who has inspired you? What has helped you on your journey? What questions are still be answered? These issues, she suggested, provide the foundation for the next stage in lifelong learning. And most appropriate too, for in most vocations today, especially in the health sector, employees are required to engage in professional development, and often further university study, as part of their job description. But her questions are also fitting for the "sent out" disciple of Jesus to ask, as we follow Paul's advice about continuing to learn: But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it. (2 Timothy 3: 14)
The final speech was from Sir Paul Reeves, first Maori Archbishop and former Governor General of New Zealand - though our Gen Ys didn't know that! He too encouraged the new graduates to keep learning. Yes, he acknowledged at their stage of life its all about getting a job and earning a living - and he wished them well in that endeavour. But unless we keep learning, read books, ask questions, follow dreams, we make a living at the expense of having a life. Good advice for us all.
To Chew Over: What has helped you on your journey? What questions are still be answered?
Juvenes dum sumus.
Post jucundam juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.
Let us rejoice therefore
While we are young.
After a pleasant youth
After a troubling old age
The earth will have us.