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Friday, May 10, 2013

Graduation Day: Virgil's Valedictory

Graduation Day: Virgil's Valedictory 

It is a happy time on college campuses as graduation season gets into full swing. Many students are finishing 4 or 5 years (or maybe more, I am not judging) of study, writing, and other activities at university. With better job prospects seemingly on the horizon, Spring's green seems a little brighter this year than in the recent past. Underclassmen and faculty also welcome the arrival of the long Summer break, with visions of travel, relaxation, fulfilled research goals, and other pleasures.

Here in Arezzo we say goodbye to yet another great group of OU students who have spent the past 4 months studying and living in Italy. While they are certainly happy to return home and see friends and family, I notice that as their days in Italy draw to a close, many of them are already scheming to get back to Italy soon. I share their bittersweet sentiments; for me, this has been my life's occupation. 

Let's recall the great Valedictory speech that Virgil delivers to Dante as he exits Purgatory in Canto XXVII. Graduations speeches today are almost always conventional, ritualistic. Reading Virgil's words reminds us how OLD this ritual is and how enduring the need for words of wisdom at this time.

e disse: "Il temporal foco e l'etterno27.127“My son, you’ve seen the temporary fire
veduto hai, figlio; e se' venuto in parteand the eternal fire; you have reached
dov' io per me più oltre non discerno.the place past which my powers cannot see.
Tratto t'ho qui con ingegno e con arte;27.130I’ve brought you here through intellect and art;
lo tuo piacere omai prendi per duce;from now on, let your pleasure be your guide;
fuor se' de l'erte vie, fuor se' de l'’re past the steep and past the narrow paths.
Vedi lo sol che 'n fronte ti riluce;27.133Look at the sun that shines upon your brow;
vedi l'erbette, i fiori e li arbuscellilook at the grasses, flowers, and the shrubs
che qui la terra sol da sé produce.born here, spontaneously, of the earth.
Mentre che vegnan lieti li occhi belli27.136Among them, you can rest or walk until
che, lagrimando, a te venir mi fenno,the coming of the glad and lovely eyes—
seder ti puoi e puoi andar tra elli.those eyes that, weeping, sent me to your side.
Non aspettar mio dir più né mio cenno;27.139Await no further word or sign from me:
libero, dritto e sano è tuo arbitrio,your will is free, erect, and whole—to act
e fallo fora non fare a suo senno:against that will would be to err: therefore
per ch'io te sovra te corono e mitrio."27.142I crown and miter you over yourself.”
Virgil enjoins Dante to let pleasure be his guide. Take time to "stop and smell the flowers" as our cliche  has it. I know most of our graduating seniors want to get off to a running start in their careers, but Virgil's words merit some attention. Perhaps not right now, but sooner or later, the present will be a memory, growing ever distant. Attend to pleasure, delight, and dalliance, as they will become the background to the portrait you paint of your own past. 

Dante has passed a intellectual and ethical test in exiting Inferno and climbing Mt. Purgatory. Graduating seniors have also passed tests, both intellectual and ethical, in graduating from college, hopefully less harsh. Dante has perfected himself intellectually and ethically and awaits only the final rituals before his ascent to Paradiso. Seniors are beginning new tests of intellect and of character and have a long way before their own ascent to the the "Great old folks home in the sky." You will make mistakes, as Dante does as he meets his new guide and, in a moment of fear, looks back for Virgil, only to find him absent.  But, also just as Dante does, admit your errs, ask for advice and wisdom, and keep moving up!

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