The following is a transcript of the invocation delivered by Dr. Maurice L. Harris at the October 13, 2019 Commencement of Union Institute & University:
Distinguished administration and faculty, esteemed honorees, graduates, family, and friends. As I deliver this invocation, I am reminded that the word “invocation” means the act of appealing to something or somebody for help. And I don’t know about you, but I need a little help today. Around my neck I have the honor of wearing the dog tags of Ril Beatty, husband of faculty member Dr. Rosalyn Brown-Beatty, a veteran of the Army National Guard, my former classmate, and fellow member of Cohort 20. Ril passed away in December 2016 just, as it seems, our journey toward this graduation day was beginning.
Another of our colleagues from Cohort 20, Jennifer Kramer-Wine [asks Jennifer to stand and wave], had planned to honor Ril’s memory and march with his tags today. But alas, Jennifer’s dissertation defense was only recently scheduled for December, moving her graduation plans to next year. Yet determined to keep the promise she had made to honor Ril’s memory, Jennifer appealed to me for help—an invocation, if you will. But when Jennifer called, I was at first reluctant. It seemed too great an honor. Surely, someone other than I—someone with more years of military experience, someone who had spent more time with Ril outside the classroom, someone, anyone more worthy, more capable of carrying so great an honor. And so I, too, had to call out for help—an invocation, if you will.
I called on our classmate, Dr. Purcell Dye [asks Purcell to stand and wave], a veteran of the US Marines, who is also graduating today. Purcell joins me in wearing Ril’s tags, to help me carry so great an honor—a response to my invocation.
The act of wearing these tags, the honor of carrying forth the dream of someone whose perseverance has been an inspiration to me, well, it got me thinking about the honors that each of you, graduates—each of us—will be receiving on this stage today. Honors that are just too great to carry alone.
The work that it has taken to get us to this commencement day we could not have done without a little help from somebody. Likewise, the honors that we carry forth from this place, we must not carry alone. Such honors are simply too great to keep to ourselves. And so, I ask you now to rise—to stand on your feet or to rise in spirit.
United in heart and mind:
Let us invoke the people who know our stories, those whose stories have formed us, and those whose stories we’ve yet to hear, so that we might, as in the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2009), recognize through our stories our equal humanity.
Let us invoke those who advise us, should we ever become too analytical, too intellectual, that true knowledge is, by contrast, relational and sensual. In the words of James Baldwin (1993/1963), “To be sensual…is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread” (p. 43). He wrote, “It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again” (p. 43).
Let us invoke those who declare that knowledge is power, especially those—like Dr. Nancy Boxill, Dr. Michael Simanga, and Stewart Dr. Burns—who also instruct us in the wisdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (2010/1967), who wrote that “power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anemic” (p. 38). He wrote, “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love” (p. 38).
Let us invoke those who are eager to know what honor feels like, to see its luster, to share its weight, lest we become greedy or overconfident and hurt ourselves trying to carry it all alone.
And finally, let us invoke the spirits of honor-bearers past, in whose example we find the perseverance to carry our portion, as long and as far as our numbered days will allow.
Let us invoke a little help. Let us pray for a little help today—with thankful hearts—to carry so great the honors we receive. And perhaps, through our invocations, honor might multiply, honor might spread out across the home, spread out across the community, spread out across the nations, and thus redeem our world.
Namaste. Peace and blessings to each of you. And amen.
About the Rill Beatty III Scholarship
Ril Beatty III (December 23, 1979 — December 24, 2016), was the husband of Dr. Rosalyn Brown Beatty, chair of Union’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Army National Guard with 10 years and nine months of service. Ril passed away less than a year into his studies at Union Institute & University while pursing a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with a major in Public Policy and Social Change. At the October 13, 2019 Commencement, Dr. Nelson Soto, provost and vice president for academic affairs, announced the creation of the Ril Beatty III Scholarship, designed to assist military veterans in achieving their goal of a doctorate degree in Public Policy and Social Change.
ADICHIE, C. N. (2009). The danger of a single story. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
BALDWIN, J. (1993). The fire next time (Reissue ed.) [Kindle version]. New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1963)
KING, M. L. (2010). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? (King Legacy ed.) [Kindle version]. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1967).
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