On the day before they were to receive their undergraduate degrees, the members of Washington and Lee University's Class of 2013 heard a reminder of their obligations to others and an exhortation to be "interactive mediators of grace."
Addressing the University's traditional baccalaureate service on the Front Lawn, Harlan Beckley, director of W&L's Shepherd Poverty Program and the Fletcher Otey Thomas Professor of Religion, told the soon-to-be graduates that they must not only acknowledge the power of grace in their lives but also live by it.
"Perhaps most of us can agree that these graduation days are not merely for celebrating our achievements, but also for recognizing that powers beyond our control and upon which we depend have graced us," Beckley said. "However, acknowledging the power of grace in our lives and the lives of others is insufficient. Gratitude, especially gratitude for powers that have redeemed us from our mistakes and shortcomings, entails obligations to others."
A member of the W&L faculty since 1974, Beckley helped create the Shepherd Program and became its first director in 1997. Now the most popular minor at W&L, the Shepherd Program aims "to reduce domestic and international poverty that devastates individual lives and undermines communities and nations," as its website states.
Relating stories of the service of two Washington and Lee graduates to others less fortunate than themselves, Beckley reminded the students of such encounters they have had with "persons, surprisingly like ourselves, who have not had the good fortune to receive the institutional and personal support that has enabled us to be here today.
"All of us know persons who have made mistakes for which they were at least partially responsible and who have not been granted the fraternal correction and forgiveness that we have needed on numerous occasions in order for us to celebrate this day," he said. "Even the honor that we value and cherish is possible, insofar as we embody it, largely because of the institution and our friends who support and expect honorable behavior."
These experiences with others recall our sense of dependence on others, Beckley said, adding: "Perhaps most importantly, these memories help us realize that despite our differences from [those] who struggle, usually in anonymity, we and they are united by what I am willing to call grace."
We are, Beckley said, all touched by grace, and we all depend upon others. And as a consequence, we should feel obligated "to sustain the interactive and interdependent care that has brought us to this day."
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs