Charge to the Classes of 2020 and 2021
We’ve missed you, more than you know.
Priya and I, especially walked our empty campus for 18 months.
Theo, sniffing the shuttered doors of North Quad.
None of us knowing whether this moment would ever come.
A miracle that you are here,
that you’ve found your way back to our place,
to break bread at the Ath,
to take sacred steps across the stage,
to commence (belatedly and powerfully)
your post-CMC contributions of care and friendship,
work and service,
critical observation and constructive solutions.
For our time.
A time of peril and uncertainty.
A time of promise and opportunity.
We’re proud of you, more than you know.
All of us.
Our brilliant, tireless, committed faculty and staff and alumni and board.
Especially our loving CMC families,
who sacrificed so much
over so many years
to see you get to this moment.
You have persisted and grown.
Built your own CMC away from campus,
new quads, living and connecting with friends,
new classes, contributing to and learning from each new experience
new research and action, responding to the challenges, both small and big,
in thoughtful, productive,
creative, positive ways.
To mark the moment today, my charge to you.
a charge you already know, a charge you are already pursuing,
a charge you echo in all you do.
A charge in three.
one, miracle in the forest
two, my big error
three, the silver thread
miracle in the forest
I start with a story from my own tradition today.
In ancient times, when our community under threat,
and searched for some miracle,
the rabbi led us to a sacred place in the forest,
lit a fire,
drank some red wine,
sang a special prayer.
A drought overcame the next generation and destroyed the vineyards.
We still went to the forest, lit the fire, said the prayer, but had no wine to drink.
The drought grew more severe in the next generation.
We went to the forest, said the prayer, but could no longer light a fire.
From long periods of drought, a terrible fire swept through the forest.
We had to stay back, with no wine to drink, no fire to light, and could only sing the
But then in the next generation, we lost our cantor and his family to illness, and no one
could remember the prayer.
We had no place to go in the forest, no wine to drink, no fire to light, no prayer to sing,
and yet, we still remembered the story
how to tell it,
to this day, and forever.
That is its own miracle.
This is your special place in the forest.
The fire is your learning.
Your time with friends is your wine, your tea, your rice krispie treats.
The open discourse you learned to sing here is your prayer to make a difference in the
Even when we can’t come back, or come back together,
we mold the soft clay of our CMC memory into the stories we tell,
we become the stories we tell
we preserve the chance of the miracles we seek.
Miracles to counter the peril of our time:
Economic hardship, uncertainty of inflation
distrust in our democratic institutions
politicization of our courts and liberties at severe risk
a hot climate, racial violence, mass shootings, war
Miracles to capture the promise of our time.
Our time together now,
our inspired return to celebrate today what we’ve learned at CMC
the powerful promise of applying that learning to our toughest problems
self-fulfillment and success
civic leadership to create and implement smart solutions
shared, unshakable commitments to liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness for
You know this. You know the stories. How to tell the old ones. How to create the new
two, my big error
And yet, we know, with humility, that miracles are elusive. They don’t magically
emerge from the stories we tell.
Yes, big threats and trauma move communities under stress to gather,
in song and prayer and special gatherings
anecdotes and speeches.
Yes, big ideas and shared vision move communities to rhetorical agreement in the
statement of values and objectives and goals.
but we know this is never sufficient,
Miracles don’t really happen, at least not often, on their own.
Recognition of a challenge and the commitment to surmounting it are just a start.
Working tirelessly, never giving up on those commitments,
all essential but never enough.
When I was a kid, I loved baseball. I was really bad in my first year of Little League.
Hitting a foul ball was a big accomplishment.
I had to spend a second year in the minor league. That second year, when I was ten, I
improved, made the minor league all-star team, and was chosen as the starting pitcher
for the summer game.
My dad, who basically worked 5-9 every day, was somehow able to come to watch me
We got crushed. We didn’t have a mercy rule in those days. 13-1.
As I walked off the field, my dad looked at me with concern, and said, “that was
rough.” I started to argue.
“We could have won that game. Did you see the error in the second inning? The ball
went through the second-baseman’s legs. If he’d made that play, we could have won!”
For years, my dad told this story with pride, telling people how competitive I was in
any endeavor, how I never gave up, how even when I was getting crushed, somehow,
some way, I thought I could pull out of it. That inspired me to persist.
But I was dead wrong. We didn’t lose the game that day because of the second
baseman or the single ball that went through his legs. The big error that day was my
own. As the pitcher, I never sized up my formidable opponent. No clue what we were
up against that day. No vision, no strategy, no working theory or approach of how to
compete with a superior force that was about to crush me.
And my dad was wrong too. This was the bigger error in the game that day.
You know this too, already. You know how to size up a big problem, frame the
question, define the structural causes, gather the necessary empirics, develop a theory
of change, try and test it, prove or disprove it, and then implement it.
Not just to take the simplistic approach, blame the problem on a single player or a
single play, or merely to oppose or negate a problem.
“Don’t let the ball through your legs” is arguably responsive but not a structural
solution to the larger challenge.
Focusing on an individual error personalizes a structural problem when we need to
think about our personal conflicts in more structural ways.
You know this. You know how to pull the problem apart, dissect its anatomy, and put it
back together in a better way.
the silver thread
That takes guts, when everyone around you is screaming for the simplistic solution.
That takes smarts, when every new idea is a bad one, at least at first.
That takes a resilient optimism, when everything seems dreary.
In a debate about the glass as half-empty or -full, a Russian philosopher once quipped
that everyone’s an optimist, it’s just that pessimists have more information.
But here we are today, taking that all on.
You’ve waited a long, hard time for this moment.
Unusual times; extraordinary responses.
2 graduating classes, in Claremont, 75 degrees, in early June,
in an airplane hangar pretending to be the largest tent on the West Coast,
An inspired invocation from a global religious leader who emerged from a napalm
attack in a brutal war in which CMC lost many students, alumni, family, and friends to
a divisive war.
Enduring commitments to public service from our very own former governor and
candidate for the presidency of the United States, Steve Bullock.
And outstanding CMC class leadership, both figuratively and literally, with love;
In listening to Maya’s talk today, I think about all I’ve learned from her, from each of
Maya was always the biggest champion of the college, whether leading the student
body, on the court or off, but what I remember most was how she led when the chips
At the most difficult moments, whenever I saw her, she had a simple response: “this is
And she dove into the breach. When the campus needed her most.
Every challenge was an opportunity to pose a critical question, listen to the answers,
take responsibility for a plan of action.
She put herself at the vortex.
Just like Kim Phan Thai, turning her pain into cures for others, and Governor Bullock,
who builds common ground in a world that increasingly prefers to live on only one side
of the breach.
Maya and all of you see the silver threads in the clouds and weave them into the linings
that we so need to see and turn inside out in the world.
That’s what we mean by responsible leadership.
When the pandemic dispersed our campus, I challenged our community with single
question, to imagine ourselves well into the future, looking back on the now: what
would we want to say to ourselves and others about how we responded? What stories
would we tell?
You all answer that question today, looking back and forward, through the miracle of
your own stories, better approaches to my bigger error, sewing the silver linings and
turning them inside-out into the miracles we seek in the world around us.
So now, I ask the Classes of 2020 and 2021 to stand for your charge. A charge you
know. A charge you have already taken.
You found the silver thread in our clouds.
You learned from my bigger error.
You created the miracles.
So tell and retell your story.
You played well with the bad cards.
wrote your own answer.
saw opportunity when others could not.
found purpose when it seemed foreclosed.
restored community when it was dispersed.
found your way back to this place in the forest.
fired up your friendships.
crossed the stage under this grand tent.
sipped the wine of memory and new beginnings.
Commencement is a beginning. Commencement is page one.
The memorable spots, tasty meals, the great conversations
are preface and prologue.
to what you will re-create.
the purpose and leadership
vision and strategy
the humility and optimism
you contribute today, through all the lives you will touch, forever.
All of you in the audience today, please stand to join our graduates, please stand, and in
the voice of our graduates repeat after me:
We will find the forest:
Light the fire
Drink the wine
Say the prayer
Tell our story
We will correct the bigger error:
Act in concert
We will see the silver linings:
Sew them together
Turn them inside out
Create our miracle.
Our CMC miracle.
Congratulations to the Class of 2020 and 2021.
Congratulations to you all.
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