Rosemary Radford Ruether opened her baccalaureate address to the Class of 2011 with the famous first words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Ruether, a visiting professor of feminist theology at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., then expanded on the contradictions of modern life.
She noted the achievements of the last century—the rise of automobiles and the Internet, the expansion of world population, the increased availability of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round and the improvement of healthcare.
“But for each of these advances, there is also a downside,” Ruether noted. She mentioned the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, fossil fuels and global warming, international violence and the AIDS epidemic.
“These and many other statistics that I could cite leave a sense of paralysis and despair,” she said. “Those of my generation face a graduation address to young people … about to embark on their life employment with a certain dread.”
But she had some suggestions for the graduates and their families who gathered in Packer Memorial Church Sunday afternoon.
First, Ruether recommended that students get to know these contradictions first-hand, for example by volunteering in Haiti or in needy communities closer to home. “The important thing is to really put oneself for a time on the other side of the divide that separates rich and poor,” she said.
She added, “As graduates of a liberal arts university, one needs to ask how commitment to justice needs to be an integral part of one’s values.”
Ruether rejected the duality of optimism and pessimism, recommending instead “insurgent hope and committed love.” And she urged students to find one small place in the world where they can make a difference.
A Christian feminist theologian who studies modern feminist theology and liberation theology, Ruether has written and edited nearly 20 books and hundreds of articles and reviews on feminism, the Bible and Christianity.
Representing different faiths
Also as part of the baccalaureate service, four graduating students read selections from different faith traditions:
- Representing Christianity was Vaughan S. Brown, a mechanical engineering major who will be returning to Lehigh as a campus ministry intern with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
- Representing Islam was Busra Ozturk, an international relations and French double major who will be interning with U.S. Rep. Christopher Murphy, D-Pa., and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
- Representing Hinduism was Trina Pal, a behavorial neuroscience major who has been a head Gryphon for three years and worked with the Office of Student Leadership Development.
- Representing Judaism was Corey Tolkin, who earned her master’s in secondary education with a concentration in mathematics.
Lloyd Steffen, professor of religion studies and university chaplain, offered the opening greeting, while the invocation was given by the Rev. Wayne E. Killian, director of Catholic Campus Ministry for the Diocese of Allentown, Catholic Chaplain at Lehigh and director of the Newman Center. The Concord Chamber Singers performed during the service, and the South Side Brass played the prelude and postlude.
Photo by Douglas Benedict