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Our Revels Now Are Ending

Dr. Jacqueline M. Erwin
 

A Final, Farewell Reflection

 

June 15, 2022

Editor's Note: The following is the Commencement Convocation speech delivered by Dr. Jacqueline M. Erwin, Humanities Department mentor instructor and Batten Fellow. Erwin is retiring after 28 years at Culver Academies.

 

“The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,/ Moves on.”

-- Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

 

Seniors and colleagues who are leaving Culver:  Tomorrow after the hats and flowers have been flung in the air at the word “Dismissed,” we leave the graduation field --and we really leave Culver.  If later that day, we, like Alice in Wonderland, come across a caterpillar who asks, “Who are YOU?”, we just might answer as she does, “I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

Who and what are we, really?  And how has our Culver time mattered in answering that question?  Shakespeare’s "The Tempest," written just before the playwright retired, deals with such a question for the inhabitants of the magical island who have been marooned there for mere hours or many years.  That isolated island, like Culver, is a place of challenge and transformation.  The older generation embraces its leadership responsibilities to family and community with clearer, less self-involved vision; the younger generation embraces a hopeful future and love.  Just two human characters remain unchanged as they leave the island because they care only about seizing power and wealth; they are the bad guys. 

This play deals with magic—the real, transformative magic of love, of honor, of service as well as the spells and illusions performed by Prospero, the main character, magician and usurped former duke, who will return to his ducal duties after being exiled and marooned for 12 years with his daughter.  Back home in Italy, Prospero will bury his books of magic and shoulder his duties to family and dukedom.  And he offers an observation that we who are retiring can grasp viscerally: Every third thought shall be our grave.  There is only so long for us now to accomplish what we care about. 

But before everyone leaves the island, Prospero puts on a magical show for his daughter Miranda and Prince Ferdinand to celebrate their engagement.  When the show ends, Prospero gives a speech sometimes seen as Shakespeare’s farewell to the theatre and his work on the London stage.  These words bespeak our experience here, not just this magical weekend but our total experience here no matter how many years we have inhabited this island called Culver when we are called to leave:

 

Our revels now are ended.  These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.  We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Here at Culver, the magical pageantry that is Grad Weekend will melt into thin air and leave not a rack behind, your years here becoming the dreams of memory.  So what really matters when your time comes to leave this island?

Perhaps the most poignantly apt answer comes from a contemporary poem by Kenneth Ronkowitz -- "The Light We Leave Behind":

A star chart tells me
that the star I am seeing tonight
is 500 light years away.
It may have died 499 years ago,
and I am still seeing its last light.
Stars are born, they live, and they die.

What is the light that remains when we leave?
If I die after writing this poem, is this my light,
and how long might that light remain and be seen?

I wondered last night and still this morning
about these questions, and still now,
standing again outside
under a mackerel sky dappled, rippled with clouds
and the sun, our family star,
which will also die.
Then, there will be no light remaining.
Perhaps, this is not what you believed.
When it dies, the Earth dies with it.
No last light to come after it.
In its end, the sun will expand
into a red giant
and will vaporize the Earth.

My son rises
and joins me outside
his coffee steaming a small cloud
into the December air.
In this enormous moment,
we look into the sky and universe.
We are a fortnight from the year ending
and hopeful for many more circles
around the sun. We are expanding,
gathering our light, and sharing it
while we can still see it reflected
in those constellating nearby.


            To our graduates of today and the future, I encourage you to focus less on seizing power and wealth -- don't be the un-transformed, self-centered evil characters of "The Tempest."  As you adventure forth, consider, instead, something more lasting and meaningful, something – a light – that makes a difference for good for others and the world.

            To the administration, to my colleagues past and present, and most especially to my students past and present, and all who have lived on this Culver island, thank you for letting me shine my light for you and for you lighting my way.  May we all leave light behind.

Emeritus status

Along with Erwin, six other people were honored for their long-time service to Culver. At their May meeting the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees conferred Emeritus status on those retiring faculty and staff with 20 or more years of service. They were recognized at the Commencement Convocation.

  • Scott Joyner, 42 years, associate director of admissions (international)
  • Gary Hinton, 35 years, CMA counselor
  • Bob Nowalk, 26 years, master instructor of Fine Arts
  • Stacey Warren, 25 years, mentor instructor of Fine Arts
  • Cathy Zurbrugg, 22 years, director of major gifts
  • Jan Garrison 21.5 years, assistant director of publications

 

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