Baccalaureate speaker urges Class of 2010 to have one person in their lives who is a 'little bit crazy'

Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core, urged the Class of 2010 to make interfaith cooperation a social norm.

Jack Hubbard

Members of the Class of 2010 listen to Eboo Patel speak at the Baccalaureate Celebration on Saturday.

Eboo Patel told the Stanford University Class of 2010 that he hoped each one of them would have at least one person in their lives who lives "at a slight angle to the universe," people like St. Francis of Assisi and Don Quixote.

Speaking at Saturday morning's Baccalaureate ceremony on the Main Quad, Patel – executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core – said he had had such a person in his life: Brother Wayne Teasdale, a lay monk and pioneer of the interfaith movement who set him on the path that led to the creation of the international nonprofit organization in 1998.

Patel said he had many traditional hopes for the graduates – that they would find ways to serve that would bring their hearts great gladness and meet the world's great needs, that they would find and keep true love, that they would achieve much worldly and material success – and a most untraditional hope.

"I wish for you something else – that you have at least one person in your life who is … a little bit crazy," he said. "Who thinks that windmills can be giants. Who cannot pass a flock of birds without stopping to preach the Gospel. Someone willing to take on the Big Nurse so that the loony bin can watch the World Series. Someone who insists on lighting out for the territory ahead of the rest, because he can't stand the Aunt Sallies of civilization."

L.A. Cicero Eboo Patel gave the Baccalaureate address entitled 'Acts of Faith.'

Eboo Patel gave the Baccalaureate address entitled 'Acts of Faith.'

Someone like Brother Wayne, who once put a ticking clock into the freezer so the two men could meditate in peace, and who considered all the dogs and homeless people he met on walks in his Chicago neighborhood to be "very spiritual" beings.

"I wish for each of you your own Brother Wayne, someone who, as Ani DiFranco says, has 'eyes like neon signs flashing open, open, open, all the time,'" Patel said. "At the very least, a Brother Wayne would add a new dimension in your life. He might even transform it completely."

Patel said Teasdale transformed his life when he sent him to an interfaith conference at Stanford 12 years ago, saying there would be lots of spiritual people at the conference who would be drafting documents, curating ceremonies and preparing for the next conference.

"In that soft, subtle way, Brother Wayne expressed his sense of urgency of why [we need] an interfaith youth movement," Patel said. "If religious extremism continues to be a movement of young people taking action, and interfaith cooperation continues to be a movement of senior theologians drafting documents, we lose."

Patel, now 34, said he had an epiphany during the conference: "Why not a movement of young people who are Muslims and Jews, who are Christians and Buddhists, who are Hindus and humanists, who are Native Americans and Jains and Sikhs, coming together to follow the commands of their different prophets and teachers in the common calling of serving others?"

It was a thought Patel translated into the Interfaith Youth Core, which is devoted to inspiring and training young people of all faiths to create new relationships based on shared values – such as hospitality and caring for the Earth – that they can "live out" together for the betterment of their communities.

"Brother Wayne whooped like a child when he heard about it," Patel said, adding that the group has conducted interfaith youth service projects all over the world, from South Africa to Spain and from India to the United Kingdom.

"President Obama heard about it and made it part of his administration," said Patel, referring to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which Obama established with an executive order in early 2009. Patel is member of its advisory council. He is also the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

Patel said Teasdale died a few years ago, but he knows Brother Wayne is there when he passes a dog in the neighborhood and the dog stops and sniffs and wags his tail, and Patel thinks: It's a very spiritual dog.

Patel finished his speech with a question: "Just as young people in previous eras made civil rights a social norm, made human rights a social norm, made environmentalism a social norm, why can't young people in this generation make interfaith cooperation a social norm?"

L.A. Cicero Members of the Class of 2010 gather in the Main Quad for Baccalaureate.

Members of the Class of 2010 gather in the Main Quad for Baccalaureate.

The Baccalaureate, a multifaith celebration, began with a call to prayer with three strokes of a Buddhist singing bowl and ended with an energetic drumming song, "Whirlwind," played by Stanford Taiko.

In between were prayers and songs from many traditions. The audience recited "A Prayer of the Objibway Nation," which was printed on their programs, and listened as Talisman, a Stanford a cappella group, sang two songs, including the African American anthem "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." There were readings from Christian, Sufi and Jewish perspectives.

"This should feel like a festival of and for the world," said the Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life at Stanford, at the start of the ceremony. "The theme for this year's service is transformation, both of the social order and of individual consciousness."

Zaid Adhami, who offered the student reflection, began his talk by singing verses from the Quran, the most sacred text in his Muslim religious tradition. In the verses, the author swears by the human soul, saying, "And by the soul and what has fashioned it. And how it is imbued with moral failings as well as righteousness. Indeed, the one who purifies it has truly succeeded. And the one who corrupts it has truly failed."

Adhami, who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and religious studies and a master's degree in sociology, said students at Stanford talk a lot about public service and social change, about their commitment to utilizing their skills, knowledge, connections and positions to "make a difference" in the world.

"And yet, while this commitment is noble, my experiences at Stanford have made me question whether or not we are actually nurturing within our inner selves a true disposition toward service," he said. "We talk about living a life of service to others as if that is easy, as if it is simply a given that that commitment will remain constant throughout our lives, despite the challenges and adversities we will inevitably face outside of the comfortable Stanford bubble."

Adhami said that at times, his commitment to serving others has been "elusive," saying he had, at times, been overcome by selfishness and greed, egotism, self-centeredness and arrogance.

"Ultimately we must develop within ourselves a moral disposition for goodness and excellence, we must purify our selves of ego-centeredness, so that we may cultivate other-centeredness," he said.

"And we must recognize that this self-development is not at all an easy or simple process; it is, rather, a long and arduous struggle, requiring cultivation and training and self-exertion. Each of us, therefore, must discover our own unique way of nurturing that inner self, whether it is through a particular religious tradition or any form of spirituality, in the broadest sense of the word."

Flowers on the dais honored the memory of Mahroof Azhar, an undergraduate student who would have graduated with the Class of 2010, but died before receiving his degree. They also honored the memory of three graduate students who died during the 2009-10 academic year: Roanak Valmik Desai, business; Alexander Tzu-Jay Tung, electrical engineering; and Barry Chai, computer science.