‘Let your passion lead you,’ speaker tells graduating Stanford students

Baccalaureate speaker the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori told graduates that the key to lifelong joy is devoting oneself to activities worthy of their full energies.

As the sun beamed above the Main Quad, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori encouraged graduating students to constantly chase their passions, and in doing so, they will create their own happiness and define their true worth.

“The world around us often judges ‘worth’ in terms of monetary value, but the deeper roots of the word are related to ‘becoming’ and the turning or bending of transformation, with the sense that the worth of something is judged by what it can become,” she said. “What is your life worth, and what is worthy of your life’s full energies?”

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Video by Kurt Hickman

The multifaith Baccalaureate celebration that is a part of Commencement weekend featured an address by the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, a student reflection and spiritual songs from Africa and the African diaspora.

Jefferts Schori delivered this message Saturday at Stanford’s student-led Baccalaureate, a multifaith celebration for graduating students and their families, and a bookend to students’ Opening Convocation held four years earlier.

Jefferts Schori earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Stanford in 1974 and was ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1994. For nine years (2006-2015), she served as chief pastor to the church’s more than 2 million members, and was responsible for initiating and developing policy for the church. As such, Jefferts Schori was one of the most visible women in Christianity worldwide, focusing attention on the Episcopal Church’s social justice priorities, including the United Nations Millennium Goals, issues of alleviating domestic poverty, climate change and care for the Earth.

Awaken the passion

As she spoke to the graduating students, she urged them to address similar topics in their future, and reminded them to tap into their experiences from the past four years. Specifically, as they set off on their next endeavor, she advised them to remember the passion they discovered as they encountered new people and areas of academia during their time at Stanford.

“Our own willingness to invest our full selves in a passionate dream … is perhaps the most worthy possible use of one’s life.”

—The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori

“The awakening of that passion is a gift – both the vision of a transformed future and the suffering that are its essence,” she said. “The very ability to engage your passion in this community is the result of Leland and Jane Stanford’s willingness to answer the pain of their son’s death in letting their hopes for him be transformed. Our own willingness to invest our full selves in a passionate dream, and to bear the cost necessary to its realization, even the pain of our own transformation, is perhaps the most worthy possible use of one’s life.”

As the graduates leave these halls of sandstone, she encouraged them to tackle big problems worthy of their time and energy. And whether they spend their lives addressing climate change, studying black holes, improving early childhood education, becoming world leaders and negotiating peaceful outcomes, or developing novel medical treatments, they should remember to lean on their classmates and the greater Stanford community.

“Remember the companions who walked these halls with you; lean on each other in the coming years,” Jefferts Schori said. “The world needs nerds and farmers and tree huggers and dreamers and every other partner you can find. Tend and test that web, for it will not become resilient and life-sustaining without life-giving challenge and passion.”

Interspersed throughout the ceremony were musical performances by the Menlo Brass Quintet, Talisman a cappella and Stanford Taiko.

‘Unplanned moments’

Jefferts Schori was followed on stage by Zainab Taymuree, the winner of the 2016 Baccalaureate Student Speaker Contest. Her speech was selected from among 36 competitive and compelling submissions. Taymuree, an Afghan American who grew up in the Bay Area, will be earning a Bachelor of Arts in African and African American studies with honors. She is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a recipient of the President’s Award for Academic Excellence.

In her speech, Taymuree encouraged her classmates to embrace the unexpected. Her own Stanford journey was thrown off course during her very first week on the Farm, when she broke her arm in a bike accident. A bulky cast scuttled her plans to join student groups that first quarter, something she had been looking forward to greatly. She came to rely on her friends even more to get through everyday situations and grew closer to them as a result. She found herself faced with new and exciting opportunities, beyond what she had charted out for her path.

“You have taught me, from late night snack sessions to impromptu a cappella concerts, that the unplanned moments stand in sharp relief when the routines of Stanford have long blurred together,” she said. “And what you might have dismissed as aberration sometimes you embraced as a new way of thinking, doing, being.”

She shared how now, when she hops on her bike, she recites a line from the Qur’an that asks for guidance to reach her true destination.

“It’s different than asking for a specific destination and more about the reaching,” she said. “Over time, I realized the things I planned for and prayed for were limited to what I thought possible.”

Taymuree’s classmates capped off her speech with a huge cheer. Soon, the brass quintet played its recessional. The students rose from their seats and sought out friends and families across the Quad to embrace in long hugs and snap selfies as the sun shone overhead.