Dec. 17, 2012. Appalachian State University’s commencement ceremony on Dec. 16 paused from the typical festivities that mark the occasion to reflect on those who lost their lives just two days earlier in Newtown, Conn.
Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock led those attending commencement in a moment of silence in remembrance of the citizens of the New England town who lost their lives in the Dec. 14 shooting, and in remembrance of the families of the deceased and others affected by the tragedy.
“Let’s join our hearts and our thoughts for them for a few moments and may they somehow know that there is a group in North Carolina caring for them at this point and sending warm thoughts, care and sympathy to them in a very sad time,” Peacock said.
Commencement speaker N.C. Poet Laureate and Appalachian professor Joseph Bathanti turned to poet Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in his remarks to the 1,240 graduate and undergraduate students receiving their degrees in December.
“You all are poised at one of those mythic crossroads, one perhaps that culture makes too much of,” he said. Graduates should not brood over the choices they make, he said.
Bathanti said the poem leads readers to believe that, “If you have the good sense to choose the proper road, it will make all the difference.” But he reminded the audience that the poem is about the road not taken, not about the road that was taken. “The speaker is telling this with a sigh. He broods over the path he neglected to follow. He is not happy,” he said.
Bathanti said today’s college graduates will face many choices through the crossroads they encounter throughout their careers, one that could mean 10-15 different jobs over the course of their lives. “These crossroads are not cause for handwringing but exhilaration,” he said.
Quoting from writer Jacqueline Barba, Bathanti said, “The road (metaphor) is an instrument of entry and escape, a means to an end, a symbol of progress in a winding foreground for drama. This is the great promise of the road, the quick turn that affords you an unexpected view and with it a new perspective.
“As you pause at the crossroads pondering what next, what you must avoid at all costs is the kind of regret, second guessing and self-recrimination, even bitterness. Regret is poison,” Bathanti said.
“You are at this moment in the advantageous position, this moment of truth, to strike out on something bold,” he said. “But tarry a little longer in mindful reflection and contemplation. Weigh the risk involved in doing the predictable or even the unpredictable. Your station in life at this moment affords you that opportunity.”
Bathanti urged graduates to use their moral compass when making their decisions, acting not on whim but on conviction. “Unite in reconciliation rather than suspicion or xenophobia. Move forward in the spirit of cooperation and charity. The future of the planet depends upon our threshold to embrace and adapt to difference,” he said.