My dear graduating students:
Please accept my warmest congratulations on the occasion of your graduation. I have had the great honour and pleasure to teach some of you as incoming students and others among you as seniors. The times we spent together talking about literature are some of the happiest and most memorable of what is becoming, alas, a long teaching career. I so wish I could have congratulated you in person for your richly deserved achievement, but this year hugs and handshakes are not to be.
You are graduating at a precarious moment in our collective history in which the present is grim and the future even grimmer. Yet the knowledge that the future is in your hands brings solace and a sense of optimism. You are sensitive, thoughtful, and smart. You know what is right and you know what is wrong; you know how to trust your own knowledge and you know how to seek the expertise of others. You are wordsmiths who know how to articulate your views with eloquence and authority. And you know how to tell the difference between dogmatism and free thinking, oppression and justice.
Go out into the world and change the course of history. I worry less about the future when I remember that the future belongs to you, my bright-spirited and noble-hearted students. You are ready, you are brave, and you will prevail. Be the agents of meaningful and lasting change. This is your moment. You are ready and I am counting on you.
I leave you with these moving lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, a poem written in the ruins of the First World War and published in 1922, that annus mirabilis which you—as the finest students of our literary history—will know was the year in which literature changed:
The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed[.]
Yours in faith and with pride,