This address was given at the Leavers’ Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral
Sunday 16th June 2019
Revd Clare Hayns, College Chaplain
It is a great honour as your College Chaplain to be able to say a few words as we come to the end of another academic year and some of you are move on to pastures new.
I would love to be like Robert F Smith.
A month ago stood Robert F Smith stood before the those graduating from Morehouse College, US and gave them his words of encouragement. He spoke about the importance of a great education and exalted them to ‘pay it forward’ and use what they had learned to support their community and make lives better for others.
He then proceeded to make his point by wiping out the student loans of all 400 students present! That’s a jolly good way to ensure you’re listened to. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to do this! You can hear his speech here
So, what to say to you as you move on from what I hope has been a happy time at University and, in the words of the poem we’ve just heard (Oxford by Keith Douglas), a time of:
This then is the city of young men, of beginning,
ideas, trials, pardonable follies,
the lightness, seriousness and sorrow of youth.
Ideas? Hopefully enough of them to get you through your degree course, or good enough to move you on to the next stage;
Trials? Most certainly; and I’ve had the privilege of supporting many of you through some of your trials;
Pardonable Follies? Well, if you’ve got through 3 or 4 years without any follies at all then maybe you haven’t gone out enough!
When musing on what to say to you today the word that came to me was COURAGE.
It is one of the four classic cardinal virtues – temperance, prudence, courage (fortitude), and justice.
Maya Angelou , my literary hero says:
Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.
Firstly, be people of inner courage.
I have spent a great deal of time with many of you here this evening and can testify that you are courageous. Just coming to Oxford University in the first place has taken courage. And throughout your time here you will have been courageous, in big and small ways.
As I’m not a tutor I don’t get to mark or grade students work but if I were to give grades they would be go to:
- those who had the courage to seek help and support;
- those who went to an examination even when filled with anxiety and fear;
- those who recognised behaviour they wanted to change, and did something about it;
- those who had the courage to work to mend a broken relationship, or to walk away when it was destructive.
Courage is of course a heart word. The root of the word is Cor – the Latin for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant: “to speak one’s mind by telling one’s heart.” (Brene Brown)
It’s not just about heroic and brave deeds.
It takes inner strength and level of commitment to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad.
It takes inner courage to do all these things I mentioned and I would like to commend you for all the small acts of courage that has got you to this point. Continue to be people of inner courage.
Secondly, be people of moral courage.
In our first bible reading we read about Moses. Moses was called by God, firstly to worship him, and then he was sent out with a task to do. He was to lead the people out from slavery into freedom. To do this he would need to stand up to Pharaoh, a task he felt utterly ill-equipped for. He was inarticulate, afraid, and lacking in confidence.
But God told Moses that He would be with him, that he was not alone. This is the same for us.
You have been given great opportunities, a fabulous education, and a place you can always call your home in Christ Church.
Whatever it is that you go on to do, be people of moral courage by standing up for what is right; by speaking up for the oppressed; by seeking justice; by having the courage to take the ‘Road Less Travelled By’; by putting other people before yourselves.
And finally, and most importantly, and if you forget everything else, know that you are loved.
Not because you are clever, or you’ve got a degree result that you’re proud of, or even because you are morally courageous.
In our second reading from John’s Gospel we hear the wonderful Gospel line:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (John 3.16)
God is love. God loves each and every one of you; even those who don’t believe in him!
You are beloved. Every one of you. Live in that love by being people of the heart, courageous people: open to love: of yourself, of one another, of God.