I will remember the class of 2020 for their sharp intellect, compassion, and courage. I started teaching at RC in Fall 2017. The students just started their sophomore year then. The kindness they showed religious communities in the Roanoke Valley on fieldtrips, the respect they offered their peers in heated conversations, and the integrity they demonstrated when discussing their own deeply-held religious convictions humbled me. They exhibited the wonder that accompanies learning and showed me how to form a community of support as they grasped at ideas just beyond their comfort zones. They asked insightful questions, all the while learning how to be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces and conversations. The courage they expressed in venturing into intellectual and spiritual places they had not yet been gives me great hope for the ways the class of 2020 will continue to journey into a world of unknowns with empathy and respect for others.
This fall, I had the honor of teaching a handful of seniors and juniors in Methods and Theory in Religious Studies. Together, we navigated difficult course content that explored the uncertainty of what “religion” meant. More importantly, we formed a Turtle Tribe, a chosen family bonded through study and genuine friendship. Together, the seniors have modeled how to navigate the uncertainties of jobs, of living arrangements after college, and now, a pandemic. I take joy in their ability to laugh at the small humors in daily life from tik tok videos to teaching me what “freaking mint” means. I grieve with them in their sorrows as they face a world of hurt and cry alongside them as they reveal the pain they are experiencing at the loss of a senior year. But, mostly, I stand in awe of them. I marvel at their resilience, their grit, and their love for each other. I will deeply miss their vivaciousness for life and the love they have for each other.
My dearest seniors, you have given Roanoke College four years of your lives. You have learned here. You have fought here. You have loved here. You’ve found mentors. You’ve found former roommates you never want to live with again. And you’ve found lifelong friends. Through it all, my hope is that you are starting to realize the questions in life that drive you and are anticipating the chance to embark on new paths to live out those questions outside the walls of Roanoke. My greatest hope for you are found in the words of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:
You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear one, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
Class of 2020, live the questions now. The world needs your intellect, your empathy, and your compassion. One day, you will live into the answers you seek. As you leave Roanoke, take all that you have learned here and go off into the world and do good things.