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06/17/91

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Graduates given 'three blossoms' of advice

STANFORD -- Stanford University graduates, their families and guests were offered three flowers of advice Saturday, June 15, during a baccalaureate sermon dedicated to three grandmothers.

Rita Nakashima Brock, an associate professor of humanities at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., compared sifting through her multicultural background to "trying to find a garden in the middle of overgrown vegetation, from piles of seeds and bulbs that have no labels."

"Things keep popping up in unexpected places and in interesting combinations of colors," Brock told about 5,000 people gathered for the morning service in Frost Amphitheater. "The patterns keep shifting as I find new blossoms and rearrange old ones. As I have looked at the patterns lately, I have felt my grandmothers especially reaching out to me, and so I bring you buds from them: a red rose, a purple orchid and a pink peony."

Brock told members of the 100th graduating class not to discount "wisdom from an underground, from those who, like my grandmothers, never attended college."

"Their messages come as the wisdom of those who know from experience, those who have been seasoned by the forces of survival that run deep in human experience, but who are often invisible and silent in the halls of higher education," she said.

"They whisper softly, often in dreams, beyond the din of lecture halls, seminar discussions, and the stress of grades, exams and job hunts. The wisdom they offer comes from the faiths of those who have been despised and endangered by the forces of power, control and dominance that have ruled the modern world.

"They are makers of miracles who expected miracles in a world of half chances and unresolved possibilities."

Don't fear pain

Brock's first message, the red rose, came from grandmother Minnie Hester Brock, mother of Brock's stepfather. The rural Mississippi woman died during an early frost when her youngest child was 3 and "did not live to see the harvest of her life."

"Tragedy is part of life," Brock said. "It is inescapable and its cruelty often strikes without warning."

Brock advised the students to not be afraid of pain, or they may "pursue the wrong goals (and) avoid taking the risks that matter."

"If we fear pain and tragedy, our fear paralyzes our passions," she said.

Remember ancestors

The second message, the purple orchid, was from Brock's Puerto Rican grandmother, Maria Morales Torres.

Learning only eight years ago that she was adopted, Brock began exploring the roots from her natural father's family and unearthed a message: "For those who straddle several worlds, I wish for you the courage to refuse the polemics of choosing one people over another," she said, "to choose instead a bigness of heart that is willing to come to terms with the past in all its ambiguity and pain as well as its hopes and loves.

"With this purple orchid, my grandmother Maria would say to you, 'Don't forget the people you came from. They need you to remember and you need them.'"

Play has value

The final message, the pink peony, was inspired by Brock's maternal grandmother, Keio Nakashima of Saga, Japan. Brock said she remembers "Bachan, as I called her," as "gray and stooped over from years of hard work."

But along with the work ethic, "she was my favorite playmate and I would spend hours following her around the house imitating her stoop and Saga accent. She taught me a playful streak, for which I have always been grateful."

By play, Brock said, she did not mean "the kind of recreation that has become another kind of achievement and quest for status in our society."

"I mean playing that is more important than that -- playing that is not tied up with how much we spend or where we go.

"Playing that is spiritually healing, that is restorative of life, that gives us joy in each other and that makes us feel whole requires liminality and a light touch.

"In our searching for play, we will need to sit lightly, to be ready at any moment to be seized by beauty, by enchantment, by joy. As you set off on your way, don't forget to play."

In conclusion, Brock offered "three blossoms from my family garden. First, a red rose that whispers, 'Don't be afraid of the pain in your life -- it will give you courage.' Second, a purple orchid that asks, 'Remember the people you came from -- they will give you meaning.' And third, a pink peony that laughs, 'Don't forget to play -- playing will give you life.'"

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