Lexington, Virginia • May 25, 2011
Addressing the 2011 baccalaureate service at his alma mater, Washington and Lee University, Yale University professor Christopher A. Beeley urged the graduates to maintain their vision and to lead a life of love.
More than 400 students will receive their bachelor's degrees from W&L during commencement exercises at 10 a.m. on Thursday.
The traditional baccalaureate service, held in brilliant sunshine on the historic Front Campus, set the tone for the graduation activities.
Beeley, a 1990 graduate of Washington and Lee, is the Walter H. Gray Associate Professor of Anglican Studies and Patristics at the Berkeley Divinity School of Yale University. He holds a master of divinity degree from Yale and a Ph.D. from Notre Dame.
In his remarks, he referred to his own experience at W&L where, he said, many people asked him what he planned to do with a philosophy major.
"I told them: 'Become a better person.' Why not?" he said.
Beeley reminded the students that they were more fortunate than they probably realized by virtue of the kind of education they obtained at W&L.
"The real glory of Washington and Lee is its core liberal arts education. W&L has maintained that educational mission in such a way that many schools, believe it or not, have lost," he said. "Whether you studied biology or economics, French literature or philosophy, as I did, you have been the beneficiaries of an enormous gift here."
Beeley told the students that there are two elements of leadership that are absolutely essential and, if they lose sight of them, their fall can be great.
"As leaders, I want to urge you, first of all, to maintain your vision, the vision you began to obtain here at W&L in your studies," he said. "It's hard work to know ourselves and to discover who we really are. But you've made important inroads in your time here, and it's imperative in your active lives that you maintain that vision."
The second crucial element of leadership, Beeley said, is to learn to bear authority in order to serve others - to be servant leaders.
A life of love, Beeley said, is about drawing on all the resources that we have been given and then give them outward for the benefit of others.
"Make friends of this world," Beeley said. "Find something that you appreciate in everyone that you meet and then lay down your life for them."
The only way to do, he said, is "to allow ourselves to be changed."
"As many have observed, the most difficult thing in the world to conquer and master and to make sense of is ourselves," he said. "I pray that you will seek God's help in mastering yourself and in knowing yourself, so that you can love and serve those around you, and find joy that is greater than you can possibly imagine."
Beeley told the graduates that they will face life-or-death struggles eventually, if they haven't already.
"The pursuit of knowledge and beauty and goodness that you have begun here at Washington and Lee," he said, "must be at the center of who you are and who you become."