Sunday, June 13, 2004

I graduated from Stanford University today. Frequently Asked Question: how do I feel? Evidently I'm supposed to answer that by saying that I'm proud of my accomplishment, of my admission to Stanford Law School, and the handful of academic honors I'm going to take away from my time here.

Well, I do feel proud in one sense, but usually I translate that as pleased to avoid miscommunication. I don't want people to think that I imagine I must have been a very clever, hard-working, or otherwise meritorious fellow to "do" all that I've "done." That's just plain silly. But I do feel fiercely, intensely pleased that I have reached the milestone which I was assigned to reach. Four years ago, while I worshipped on the Quad at midnight with Stanford believers, I accepted God's call on my life to spend the next four years of my life here. Four days ago, while I worshipped on the Quad at midnight alone, I accepted that my time here was finished, and well spent. I can count my regrets on one hand, and I feel fortunate in that. Now it is on to something new - and while that "something" is physically on the Stanford campus, I am not here per se. I am not going to be where God called me to be when I was a high school senior, which is the operative factor. I am going to be where God called me to be when I was a college senior, and the fact that those are geographically the same place is largely immaterial to my sense of moving on.

I have finished my time with a handful of academic honors and a bachelor's from the best darned department in this university. I realized today what it means for President Hennessy to confer upon me the degree which I have been awarded, with all the rights, privileges, honors, and responsibilities pertaining thereto, by the authority vested in him by the faculty and trustees of this university. Who certifies a master? Other masters. In a very real sense it is not Stanford University which has awarded me my degree, but the faculty of my department. Jennifer Trimble, Ian Morris, Richard Martin, Joe Manning, Reviel Netz, Joy Connolly, Jody Maxmin: they have personally conferred upon me the right to claim a bachelor's of arts. They entrust that part of their tradition to me, person to person. They read my work, they heard my thoughts, and they have considered it worthy of this level of scholarship. Not Stanford. Real people, whom I know and who know me.

That realization gave me a greater sense of what I have "accomplished." But what made that significant was my departmental graduation. Because I have a small department, we could afford to take some time over the actual dispensing of diplomas, and Jen had solicited from faculty and teacherscomments regarding all of us graduates. There were very nice things said about all of us, and some good things were said about why one studies classics, which it is good to be reminded of occasionally even if one already knows. But what really made it special were the sorts of things that Jen read about me. My name is spoken in the halls of the classics building. Meg Anassa remembers me from Sicily as a person of character. I am remembered as a person of character.

This is pretty nearly the only academic achievement I consider to be noteworthy. I suppose it is conceivable that, in furthering the store of human knowledge, one could discover a fact which by itself changes the face of humanity. But such discoveries and inventions, if they exist, must come few and far between. I have done good work at Stanford, and some substantial work too - but nobody is better for it. My world is not changed in any lastingly important way because of my papers, translations, exams, or grades; no good has come of it. But if I am remembered as a person of character, some good will have come from my time here. Not because it is important that I be remembered, but because it is important that character be transmitted from person to person. Such character as I may have must be transmitted if it is to do anybody but me any good, and if I am remembered and admired as such a person then perhaps I have left a legacy in the lives of individuals here which will actually mean something.

Of course it doesn't do to become solely obsessed with what good comes about as a result of my actions. The actual implications of my actions are too far-reaching for me to confidently say that no good will come of something. And in any case it is far more important for me to do my part and follow God's leading than it is to go haring off looking for good to do. I am not in command here, and ultimately what will do the most good for people is if I obey the Lord. If that means reading Asklepiodotos, then read Asklepiodotos I shall, and never mind if I can see how that benefits people.

But at the same time, every now and then it is nice to actually see the benefits whose eventual existence I have faith in. It is particularly nice when those benefits are in the form of changing people. That is the sort of change I believe in. I believe that systems can and do change, and I am glad there are people who are built so that they feel the importance of that in their heart because it is frequently important that systems change. But it is changing people that I feel in my heart, and if I have done that then I will consider that my time here has accomplished something real.

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