Charge to the Class of 2021

Delivered by Vanderbilt Divinity School dean, emilie m. townes on May 16, 2021

whether we are talking calendar year or academic year, this has been some year we have lived and it’s good to see so many of you in the flesh rather than in zoom boxes

those boxes had their advantages…and disadvantages but i found that they fall just a tad bit short of the kind of vibe one gets from being in the appropriate physical space with each other

but i digress, because now is not the time to talk about pedagogical methodologies or sound the cautions: mask up, wash your hands, physical distance, anchor down

for those of you who entered in 2018 or there abouts, in my opening convocation address to you i talked about premeditated indifference

i explained that premeditated indifference is a way of moving through the world that makes


excuses for hatred


rationalizes “isms”


and advocates conquering differences with a bland sameness that refuses to realize that God has made a technicolor world to celebrate the mysteries of creation


a world that is alive with all of the ways we live into our humanity





geographic home

religious home

political persuasion


theological shanana


and all the other critters and flora that helps make up this amazing planet

that we too often take for granted


i warned you that we too often put decorations on creation rather than living into it in deep and life-changing ways and use our faith to guide us


i invited you to the adventure of discovering the worlds moving in and out of you and moving all around us as you joined us in this place


and more, see what the holy is calling you to


and if you don’t identify with a holy in your life—whatever or whoever calls you beyond your comfort zones and begs you to get busy in this drama of living


i welcomed you to transformation, if you seek it

to deep reflection if you desire it

to laughter and tears, as you put on the new

to stillness, as you consider what you bring to this space and how to blend the old with the new and then peer into your tomorrows

in sum, i welcomed you to this time and place that intentionally sidelines premeditated indifference


as you love life and living hard and

become theologically fabulous

spiritually rock steady

so, how did you do?


back then, we had no idea that we would be facing the challenge of a virus that literally takes our breath away

let alone have to deal with it for over a year and still be wondering what we will be and who we will be when we no longer have to physically distance, wear masks, live with plastic shields between us


in this year we have witnessed

  • the murder of George Floyd and national and international protest that followed that was more diverse than any I can recall in my lifetime
  • over 585,000 COVID-related deaths in the US alone (and for some of us, this is not just statistics—it describes our relatives, our partners, our friends, members of our congregations and groups we work with—so it is personal)
  • a presidential election that saw the largest voter participation in 120 years and was and continues to be rimmed with the big lie, a coup attempt on congress
  • the stirring words of Amanda Gorman—if only we’re brave enough to see it. if only we’re brave enough to be it—
  • the rise of hate crimes against Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islanders that joins those continuing crimes against Latinx and Black communities, trans people, and more;
  • 3 vaccines and the dawning of hope that this pandemic can be defeated if not herd immunitied and managed,
  • the conviction of Derek Chauvin
  • the ongoing roiling questions we have about what it means to protect and serve,
  • the end of another academic year

this has been an incredible year and in whatever state of ready you are to do so, you are leaving us


so, i want to recall for you again the dangers of trying to face our amazing and troubling times with premeditated indifference


it may comfort you, but it will not help the rest of us because it will give you precious little to share—even with those whom you love


beyond a teeny-weeny faith that can’t do a push up even with the aid wings


i beg you to be deeply invested in your life, such that the work you do shimmers with the joy of living


don’t half step

duck and dodge

live with a quicker picker upper set of excuses

or grow comfortable with your comfort and satisfied with what little you know


for all of us, life is about growing until you die and my hope for you is that you make some righteous holy noise in this world of ours as you go

and remember to bring others along with you


and it’s also perfectly fine to be a wise and aware follower from time to time


keep crafting a more vibrant

more life bringing and giving

more welcoming

more humane

more alive with possibilities world


in a word, what i am saying to you is: care

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