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2019 Commencement Charge

Seek Friends, not Enemies.

Yep, seek Friends. Don’t seek enemies.

This may seem obvious, or even odd advice. After all, who would have told you to seek enemies? Many years ago, when you were sent off to school, no one said, “Well, I hope you make some enemies.”

For those of you who had family come to visit during Family Weekend in your years here at Scripps, your family didn’t request to meet your enemies, but they probably did want to meet your friends.

So, it may seem, that you have been seeking friends, so why would I advise you against seeking enemies?

When I look at the world around us, and even when I look locally, right here in Claremont, I see a tendency to magnify and, inadvertently, empower our enemies through our chosen methods of confrontation or combat.

At times, we define ourselves, define our goals, define our progress, and define our movements, by those who we oppose, those we disagree with, those we see as an obstacle, those we can vilify, those we wish to abandon, those we wish to silence.

I challenge you to engage the world in a different way, to define yourselves and your goals by those you stand with, by that which you want, by those that have helped you achieve so much and by those who have the potential to help you even more.
What if we sought a better world by championing who and what we see as good as opposed to tearing down who and what we see as bad?

What if we looked at the people who seem to be blockades and instead of vilifying them, sought to understand their position and looked for the avenues and paths along which collaboration and cooperation could advance shared goals?

This is what I mean by seek friends, not enemies. I don’t mean to ignore problems, and you must address injustice. I mean that instead of focusing on frustration, loss, and immorality, focus on hope, gain, and good.

My guess is, if you can do that, you will accomplish so much more, you will engage and persuade so many more, and that you will live a life of confidence, courage and hope.
Behind me, there are faculty who have certainly spent time in their classes talking to you about the narrative form. We know that a story is easier to tell when there is a good juicy villain.

So, I get it. I understand the inclination to identify the bad guy, and then make that bad guy as evil as can be. But, as effective as it may be as a narrative form, it doesn’t work as well for providing the life and the society I know you seek.

For one thing, if you seek the enemy to include in your narrative, it means that you must describe your enemy’s perspective, and by doing so, you give voice and power to what you are seeking to fight, change, or diminish.

When you seek enemies, you give those enemies power and legitimacy, you convey that their perspective is one to be taken seriously, and you repeat and publicize their view of the issues and of you. Why repeat what you believe to be wrong?

Second, it’s really hard to be accurate about our enemies. It’s hard not to end up being sarcastic, using hyperbole, and misattributing motives. I get that too – that’s the fun of talking about your enemies.

But, when you are inaccurate, you discredit yourself, and each time, you make it less likely that they will listen to you, and you miss the opportunity to create common ground.

Once we define someone as morally inferior, the potential for learning, for persuasion, for collaboration, almost immediately and completely disappear. No one ever learns from being shamed.

Third, true to the narrative form, once an enemy is defined, there must be a winner and a loser. And so, instead of working on problems, making change, producing the world we want to see, we end up expending energy on symbolic contests that are only about declaring victory – often at a devastating emotional, relational, or physical cost.
So, what about seeking friends. What does that look like? This also may seem like a funny question to ask.

Right here, right now, you know exactly what it looks like to seek friends. As your time at Scripps winds down, I know that each and every one of you have made incredible friends.

Some of these friendships happened because you sought them out, others in unexpected ways. With each of these friends, you share a bond borne of your experience here, and I hope for you and for the College that you will remain friends with at least some of them forever.

I also know that you will find many more friends as you meet other Scripps alumnae throughout your lives. The Scripps alumnae association is small but mighty, and they are enthusiastic about welcoming you into their community.

Whether at official alumnae events or when you encounter an alum in your personal or professional networks, you will be greeted with a hug and a smile. This community will always be a source of friendship and support for you and I hope you will use it fully.
But living your life in a manner where you seek friends is about more than having friends. It is really about the power of affiliation and hope to produce a better world.

Consider those who you have championed and those who have championed you. There is nothing like confidence in and compassion for others for giving a cause life and bringing people along. So, how does one go about this?

Look for people to respect, admire, appreciate, and emulate.They are everywhere. And then talk about them. Tell THEM why they motivate you. Tell others. Remind yourself. Seek to understand what is amazing about them, let yourself be inspired, share your impressions, create life lessons for yourself and others based on their stories.

Help someone. Keep your eye out for someone not having their best day or their best moment. What can you do? This does not have to be a grandiose act of generosity. Many small gestures add up to so much more.

Decide that someone with whom you disagree, or whom you see as an obstacle is actually your best chance at success. Build a relationship with those who seem to be on the other side of the fence and get to know their purview well, find the aspects of them you can and do appreciate, and let those characteristics loom large. What happens next might amaze you.

Look for people to thank. None of us experience anything good without the generosity of those around us. Gratitude is part of what keeps people helping one another, part of how we create relationships, and part of how we come to know beauty in the world. Don’t let a day go by without saying thank you to someone somewhere, and especially don’t let a day like today go by, a day where we recognize development and transition, without thinking about those who made your own development possible, and tell them.

Some of the people who contributed to your success are even here with you today, some of them sitting next to you, some of them on this stage, and some in the audience. Tell them.

Let’s get back to the narrative form. What will happen to your story if you seek friends not enemies? Will your story be boring? Will there be no winners? No.
A few weeks ago, we had alumnae celebrating their 5th to 50th year reunions come back to campus to reconnect with the College and with one another.

While on campus, alumnae honored Eli Winkelman ‘07 with the Outstanding Recent Alumna award. In her acceptance speech, Eli told her story about the creation and development of the non-profit organization “Challah for Hunger,” a student-run, challah-baking group that donates proceeds from the sale of the traditional Jewish braided bread to social justice causes; and her most recent venture, CRAFT, a walk-in art studio for adults.

There was not a single enemy or villain in the story. What abounded instead was wonderment about all those who purposefully and accidentally facilitated her journey, those who believed in her, and those who didn’t understand what she was doing or why, but respected her choices anyway.

It was riveting, because it illustrated the power of humanity, generosity, and kindness to improve lives, communities, and society.

Who or what will shape your story? Whose journey will you facilitate? How will you evolve along the way?

There are so many possible answers to those questions for each and every one of you, but I know the journey will be more gratifying, and the destination will be worth attaining if you have been seeking friends not enemies.

Seek friends, Class of 2019, seek them often, seek them openly, celebrate when you find them, and cherish them throughout your lives.

And now…It is my pleasure to be the first to say congratulations to the Class of 2019!

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