Baccalaureate speeches implore post-9/11 class to embrace world’s challenges

The freshmen who entered Stanford in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, leave as new graduates, hopeful for a better world.

They came to Stanford as freshmen almost four years ago, afraid of the world that was unfolding around them in the aftermath of Sept. 11. They left Stanford last weekend as new graduates, hopeful for a better life of harmony after hearing a call to share the challenges of the world from Baccalaureate keynote speaker Sylvia Boorstein, co-founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif.

Dr. Sylvia Boorstein, co-founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, gives the Baccalaureate address, “Remembering What Is Important,” at the ceremony on Saturday June 11, 2005. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

The Class of 2005 and their families gathered in the Main Quad on a brilliant Saturday morning for a multifaith service that included Muslim prayers, an invocation to redeem the world, inspirational messages from the writings of the Dalai Lama, Zulu music and drum blessings.

“This should feel like a festival of and for the world,” said the Rev. Scotty McLennan, dean for religious life. “That’s especially important for this undergraduate class, which entered Stanford in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. You who are now graduating have continued to search for a vision of global citizenship and hope for the planet Earth in an era all too dominated by fear and divisiveness.”

The morning’s main student speaker, Jazib Zahir, a graduating senior in electrical engineering, spoke about his spiritual odyssey that occurred after he arrived at Stanford from his native Pakistan. Having been delayed for several days by U.S. Customs officials as they scrutinized his passport due to heightened security after the Sept. 11 attacks, Zahir said he found a welcoming bubble of support at Stanford and a new desire to question his own “blind faith” in his religion and beliefs.

“I am fortunate to have personally experienced many different faiths,” Zahir said. “I am content with the conclusion that I am born into one and can remain steadfast to it while still respecting others.”

In confronting the challenges of the world and of everyday life, it is important to remember several key lessons, Boorstein said. Keep your mind awake and your heart engaged, she said—two pieces of advice for a happy life that she learned from one of her teachers.

“When my mind is buoyant, it can carry the challenges of my life in a more hopeful and inspired way,” Boorstein said. “It’s a very complicated world. It needs a lot of help. Imagine a world where we met everyone as brothers and sisters. In moments where my mind is buoyant, I think to myself, I know that’s true and I can be a part of it.”

There were a million different moments that led to the moment of Baccalaureate that everyone in the Quad shared Saturday morning, Boorstein said, making everyone awake to the common joy of celebrating one of life’s bigger milestones.

“What I think about when my teacher said to me to be happy was to be awake, be alert, stay in your life,” Boorstein said. “Stay present to it. She said at another point, ‘It’s your life, Sylvia. Don’t miss it.'”

There are three practices that Boorstein said she employs to help her mind stay buoyant. The first one is the practice of mindfulness: paying attention and making yourself aware of how you feel. Within that practice, there are three wisdoms, she said: Everything passes, there are things you can change and things that you can’t, and no one does anything alone because of your network of support and the lessons you have learned from others.

Boorstein’s second practice is the practice of kind expression, or “metta” practice, where you greet everyone as friends and wish them well. Doing so, even with people you don’t like, keeps your heart and mind free of anger, she said.

The practice of expressing gratitude might be the most important practice of all, Boorstein said. She and a friend who lives in Massachusetts have a daily ritual of e-mailing each other to express gratitude for something. On bad days, she said, the practice forces her to express gratitude for having a caring friend who is waiting to hear from her, and writing that e-mail might help her to realize that things aren’t so bad, there’s some space around her edges and that she might be making a mountain out of a molehill.

After dispensing those words of wisdom, Boorstein asked the audience to join her in a simple, everyday meditation of remembering friends and family and wishing them well: “May our lives go well, may we be happy, may our dreams come true. May we stay awake and alert. May we stay friendly. May we stay amazed.”