The thoughts I offer below are based upon short remarks I gave at Miami’s beautiful Lavender graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 5.
As the semester comes to a close, I’ve once again been reflecting on the “ideal” Miami community, and on our shared values as articulated in Miami’s Code of Love and Honor.
It’s been a challenging semester. As I express this, I realize that the same thought occurred to me at the end of the fall semester, and the spring semester before that. So, perhaps it has been a tough year and a half, but really the challenge — to build a better Miami community — is ongoing and not new. Still, there were times this semester when I was frustrated, and times when I felt angry.
My frustration, I think, reflects the belief that we can truly achieve the type of community described in our Code. My anger, I hope, is grounded in a sincere desire to achieve it. I suspect some students have felt similarly, and perhaps even more intensely. This is understandable, for students are typically in this community for only four or five years, and cultural change happens very slowly. Among my many privileges, I enjoy the benefit of a much longer perspective, observing now about 7.5 rounds of four-year cycles at Miami.
Realistically, adversity is inevitable, and challenges are a part of life. But on the flip side of adversity and challenge is hope. At Miami, we must aspire to be a community where everyone feels a sense of belonging, because ultimately it is from belonging that happiness — love and honor — derive. And falling short of this aspiration for anyone in our community is enormously consequential, as it (i) deprives the individual; (ii) diminishes our community; and (iii) denies the world of its full potential.
Consider the simple analogy between the legend of the Seal and the aspiration represented by our Code of Love and Honor: the same way every member of our community knows the legend of the Seal, why should we not expect everyone in our community to (i) know our values; (ii) live by our values; and (iii) support and expect others to love by our values? Know the story of the Seal. Don’t step on the Seal. Divert others if they are about to step on the Seal.
But there is an additional critical element to this analogy that has come into sharp focus this year. And it is this development that gives me great hope. When someone steps on the Seal, they flunk their next test — but what is the equivalent when someone acts in ways inconsistent with our values?
On several occasions this year a most profound and impressive thing happened: individual students, student leaders and student groups, from all across campus, stood up in response to affronts to our values and said “not in our community.” Students — the core of the Miami University community — responded very visibly by saying: “to those who violate our values, you flunk our civility test — and it is you who don’t belong.” This most impressive, organic response makes me think that our community may now be at an inflection point, and it gives me great hope that this cultural shift will continue and our community will grow increasingly more welcoming every year.
To those who are returning in the fall, we look forward to working together to build upon the impressive progress that has been made this year. To those who are graduating, we offer our sincere congratulations, and thanks. As a labor economist, I can confidently predict for you great success. You are smart (you got into Miami), you are industrious (you did the work and graduated) and many of you are tenacious (you succeeded in spite of many obstacles). But while these characteristics are critical to career success, I wish for our graduates much more. I wish you entry into welcoming communities that will allow you to derive a true sense of belonging, as this is where the most important elements of success — love and honor and happiness — grow most abundantly.