BRATTLEBORO -- Rha Goddess, the guest speaker at the Class of 2014 Marlboro College Graduate and Professional Studies commencement program, told the class to use their education to work for social justice, income equality, a cleaner environment and a more sane world.
She recognized the hard work each graduate put into their studies, juggling careers, family responsibilities and home finances while finishing their projects at Marlboro.
And she cautioned them against losing sight of what was most important as they advance their careers.
"When we hear ‘advancement' we immediately think about personal and professional ambition," Goddess said during her speech. "Our conditioning has caused us to excuse a lack of character, particularly when it comes to those who are most accomplished in what they do. But we excuse it to our own detriment. And theirs."
Goddess is an artist, writer and activist who has developed an entrepreneurial training company, Move the Crowd, that encourages young business leaders to pay attention to their own lives while helping others at the same time, and in turn creating a better world.
She told the graduates at Saturday's ceremony, which was held at Centre Congregational Church in Brattleboro, that news reports from Ukraine, Ferguson, Mo., Gaza, Iraq, Argentina, Mexico and Democratic Republic of Congo, could discourage young entrepreneurs from moving ahead and wanting to make a difference.
But at the same time, she said those reports could be seen as signposts that mark a significant change in how humans work and live together on a fractured planet.
"As we attempt to digest the rapid nature of this upheaval we can view it a number of ways," she said. "One might be tempted to see it as the world coming to an end, and falling apart. But I would say that a particular way of operating in the world is coming to an end.
As each Marlboro graduate moves out beyond his or her studies, Goddess told them to pay attention to how their careers either build them up as responsible citizens or force them to make decisions that they might not otherwise be proud to talk about.
"Being the best human being you can possibly be does not trump your leadership," she told the class. "It is the very foundation that your leadership must be built on."
Degrees were handed out to 56 graduates of the master's program Saturday, while four certificates and five bachelor of science undergraduates were recognized.
Philip Kolling, who received a master's degree in Mission Driven Organizations, talked about the three very busy and emotional years he spent at Marlboro while working toward his degree.
It was a time, he said, when he was married, had two children, moved twice, and lost his father-in-law to cancer.
Kolling recognized the family members who helped him complete his program, and he asked his fellow graduates to also make sure the people who helped them knew the roles they played during the schooling.
"Take your degree and give them a piece of it. It is theirs too," Kolling said. "Then go do some good in the world in their honor. It is the best recognition you could possibly give them, and we all know there is plenty of work to be done."
Savitha Rajamani talked about her uncle, Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, who told her when she was young that she needed to break her coconut-shelled head and analyze the world critically.
When she first came to Marlboro, she said, she quickly realized that she did not have the tools to take on the responsibilities of a graduate degree and felt overwhelmed.
But through time and work, and with the help of her friends and teachers, she completed her studies and will begin her career as a teacher.
"My schools in India taught me how to be patriotic, they did not teach me how to connect with the rest of the world, and treat everyone as fellow human beings, which always made me not want to go to school," Ramaiah said. "But here I am getting certified as a teacher. I am confident that I am getting the right tools to break not only mine, but my students' coconut-shelled heads in the future."
Claire Marie Wheeler received a master's degree in Business Administration.
She talked abut an exercise she did with her fellow students during her first week at Marlboro that included climbing a mountain in winter without their cell phones.
She said the hike forced her to be present; to pay attention to the environment and to herself.
"The joy and grace of getting lost is the very first, and the very best lesson that I learned at Marlboro," she said. "By being willing to get lost, we give our practical minds a much needed repose. By surrendering to the unknown, concerns about efficiency, productivity, or what path makes the best logical sense, are released in exchange for our senses, all of them. All at once."
She said the hike was a fitting start to her experience at Marlboro, and she said that lesson will guide her as she moves beyond college.
"By venturing into the unknown, possibilities emerge that we never could have seen if we had stuck only with what we had already known," she said. "The unknown is where true change happens."
Then she told her classmates to take risks and "Get lost."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. Follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.