For the first time in two years, the University of Lynchburg celebrated Baccalaureate entirely in person. The ceremony, which was also livestreamed, took place on Wednesday afternoon in Snidow Chapel.
Chaplain Nathan Albert delivered the welcome and invocation before Assistant Chaplain Dr. Katrina Brooks and Interfaith Chaplain Jer Bryant ’03, ’10 MA read from various religious texts. They included Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim scriptures (Brooks) and Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Tao, and Zoroastrian scriptures (Bryant).
President Dr. Alison Morrison-Shetlar introduced the day’s speaker, Dr. Amy Butler, interim senior minister at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C.
In her address, “When You Live on an Island,” Butler talked about the importance of taking care of one another.
“The world in which we live now is further into depths of division, hatred, destruction, and despair,” she said. “But, as you graduates are now stepping into leadership … it’s a big deal to show up in the world in a way that makes it better. We’re so grateful that you’re bringing your energy, your hope and your determination and your convictions with you.
“No matter what course your life takes, I want you to try to remember that your holy obligation as a living, breathing, beloved child of God is, most of all, the larger work that we were given to do, it’s holy work, it’s the work of healing the world.”
Butler recalled growing up on an actual island, Hawaii, with a father who was a Native Hawaiian activist, and related an essay by author Erynn Brooks, who helped an 18-year-old girl through a seizure on the subway in New York City. She also spoke about the biblical story of the disciple Peter, who had to learn inclusiveness.
“We need you to hang on tight to the conviction that we need each other; we need you to remind those of us who keep forgetting; and we need you to help us build systems and structures that replace the old destructive and divisive ones with a way of living in community in which we honor each other and work toward our shared wholeness and healing,” said Butler, who started her ministry career as the director of a homeless shelter for women in New Orleans.
It’s a tall order, she admitted, but in the end, it all comes down to a simple fact: “When you live on an island, you have to take care of each other — or you die.”
That mantra applies to everyone, Butler said, physical island or not, because we’re all connected.
“It’s too easy to put people into predefined camps,” she said. “And when we refuse to remember that we need each other, we create this division that does not only lead to exclusion, but … to destruction — sometimes even in the name of God.”
We don’t need to look as far as Nazi Germany, Butler added, to find such examples. “It was a sick kind of Christianity that undergirded the institution of slavery in this country from its very beginning until today, and it is a sick kind of religion that upholds the evil of white supremacy that breeds fundamentalism, that stokes hatred, that celebrates violence,” she said.
An exclusive society — just like an exclusive religion — “doesn’t just leave people out,” Butler explained. “As we saw just last week, again: misguided convictions about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ — it leaves people shot and lying dead in a pool of their own blood on the supermarket floor.
“When do you think we’ll remember that we can’t thrive unless we work together? That I can’t thrive unless you’re thriving, so your rights, your ability to build a life without the cards stacked against you, your well-being, well that is of utmost and ultimate importance … to me? That’s the work. That’s the holy work.”
Finally, Morrison-Shetlar returned to the podium to confer this year’s sole honorary degree to Nathaniel X. Marshall ’83, former chair of the board of trustees. Marshall, who has spent most of his career at BWXT and joined the University of Lynchburg Board of Trustees in 2006, was presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters.
The ceremony ended with the traditional “Blessing of the Students” by the three chaplains and a benediction by Albert.