Remarks at Baccalaureate - May 16, 2010


It is a special honor to welcome members of the Class of 2010 and their families to this Baccalaureate Service, one of the oldest traditions in the history of ancient universities, and one to which St. Lawrence is grafted root and branch. The setting of this occasion may easily be termed a house of human stories, for in it each person may find a narrative link to other people in other days that speak some individual truth for the time ahead.

Gunnison Memorial Chapel stands tallest upon the North Country landscape, a wonder to the imagination of young dreamers and an inspiration to thousands who remember its traces like a poem “recollected in tranquility.” More than just a gathering place for special assemblies, it contains many clues or symbols about the whole St. Lawrence experience, the one you now know after four years and the one you will spend the rest of your life rediscovering in fresh terms.

The soaring spire that is seen for miles around, capped by the weather vane rooster, points upward, as does this Commencement Day. The rooster itself is significant, a symbol and a word, which stand for the new day, the dawn of life that it must always be on the St. Lawrence campus. The chapel bells close the day, or toll for remembrance, or play as a summons to joy. In the music, there is the St. Lawrence we shall “ne’er forget.”

The windows are encyclopedic. All the disciplines, a multitude of perspectives, and dozens of faces testify to the complex and somehow unifying business of a university; St. Lawrence as told in the windows does for each what is viewed by all in wonder.

The feature of the chapel, however, that I wish to point out this morning, and briefly explicate, may not be obvious as a means to center down on this great day in your lives. So, I call your attention to the significance of the stone walls of Gunnison Chapel. From out of the earth of the North Country, these walls were built. A quarry, once owned by St. Lawrence, just a few miles outside of Canton in Morley, supplied the builders the stone for the chapel, really material serving as the binding of the book telling the history and the life of students coming to this hill for more 150 years.

Many years ago, a friend of mine—Clarence Cranford, a trustee at Bates College—toured the great quarries of New England. At one of his stops, he asked the quarryman a simple question: how do you get the most stone out of the pit without wasting too much in gravel and debris? The quarryman said, “You have to go deeper. But to go deeper, you must go broader; otherwise the pressure will crush the stone, leaving it useless.”

Today, we celebrate with uplifting and colorful processions, timed to the cadence of drums and the horn of the pipes. But before we do so, it’s important to take a moment to reflect. As you begin your life’s work in the years to come, you will have to go deeper. You will have to know more, develop more confidence, consider more frequently the questions of faith, and test your first principles more than you ever have before. How will you go deeper?

Like the stones of the chapel hewn from the ground of this county, you will need to go broader. And that I believe with all my heart, St. Lawrence has instilled into you. The St. Lawrence experience has its depth, undoubtedly, but there is also the breadth of it that will serve you extremely well. You have learned how to learn with joy in the discovery; you have learned how to make and be a friend; and you have learned more what you value and want to do with your lives. As you go deeper, you will need to become broader. You have an excellent foundation, but as you consider the building materials of your intellect and soul, remember the parable of the North Country quarry.

And remember the ancient words, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged.” (Isaiah 51:1)