Last week we went to Ottawa to celebrate the convocation of my middle daughter, who has completed a degree in mechanical engineering. We were exceedingly glad to celebrate the day with her and her friends. This was most interesting in that we have heard stories about many of them, and met a few along the way. The convocation, of course, also gave us occasion to meet some of their proud parents. Afterward, my wife made the observation that the convocation ceremony was notable in that, aside from siblings and grandparents, the audience was in the range of our age. It is rare that we gather in mass with people from our generation, that is the end of the baby boomers.
I thought about that a bit on our trip home. We travelled from Ottawa via a more northernly route, camping one night at Canisbay Lake in Algonquin Park. Along the way, we stopped to grab some food for supper, and my wife suggested we buy some bread, cheese, and veggies for a picnic along the way. An hour or so later, we managed to find a pull-in station along the highway, where there were picnic tables alongside a lake. We had a leisurely lunch, enjoying the sights before we continued on our way. As we travelled, we chatted of our memories of doing this quite often as kids, and with our children when they were young. At one point, in Alberta where we lived at that time, road side camp shelters were quite common. These were not over-night camp sites, but spots where folk could stop for a bit of a rest along the way. People would often take a break, and allow kids to run. I distinctly recall their demise. A would be premier, promising more services for less taxes, promptly shut them down upon his election. It was a sad day in my then province. I do not know if they have been returned with a recent turn in government. We have been happy to find a few here in Ontario, but I do not know if the current state of affairs represents a decline, or not. I suspect , in part, that they are probably less used if even still in place. This is sad since they are a pre-eminently civilized diversion in the increased rat race of our travel habits, now complete with hands-free phones, food on the go, and road rage. I recall, as a child, travel as decidedly more leisurely. Perhaps these days can be resurrected. If so, it will take some of us with a little bit different memory of the past to call attention to a different way to be, which brings me to my first observation.
In a way, a convocation is a profoundly important inter-generational experience. It isn’t exactly a passing of batons, but there is something of that to this important event. As a new graduating class makes their way into the world, they will make and influence choices for good and for ill, just as have those who sit in the audience. It is given to both to work together, in both dreaming and recollection. The past is not pristine, but neither is it obsolescent and progress is not the purview of the future alone. Theology, amongst other disciplines, knows these treasured truths and forgets them to its peril. The path forward is sometimes behind us and the future might well be where we finally meet our past. Memories are the repository of dreams and the obverse obtains, and no place is as replete with memories as a convocation hall.
The convocation hall, in a way, is a great symbol as a meeting place of both past and future, of many generations. It is a location of being together, which is surely the condition for the possibility of true community. Perhaps this, in a way, is the most important commencement address. We are community in being together, across generations for the task of celebrating these achievements and perhaps we ought to make this being together a habit, so that we might learn from both past mistakes and successes as we dream a world whole and well.