“Dreaming with Eyes Open”
Boston University Baccalaureate Sermon
May 19, 2013
By Bishop Peter D. Weaver
Chairman Knox and members of the Board of Trustees, President Brown and members of the administration, Provost Morrison and members of the faculty: Thank you for the invitation to be with you today. I am deeply honored. But I really come to honor you for your creative and courageous stewardship of Boston University, which I like to call the incarnation of imagination.
Frankly, I’m not sure why I was selected to speak at this service. After all, Morgan Freeman is here who has been God – twice.
Thank you, Dean Hill, for the gracious introduction. My only regret is that my statistics professor from 1970 is not present. He didn’t think I would make it. But there is amazing grace.
I want to acknowledge those of you who are parents of graduates – they’re the ones who look relieved, or in some cases, surprised. Without your love and support we would not be here celebrating your sons and daughters.
Most of all I want to congratulate the 2013 graduates. On Twitter one of your classmates call you “2013 BU Strong,” although I can tell some of you are little weary. Was it the exams, or Six Flags, Fenway takeover, harbor cruise or the 808 bash? My, how things have changed.
But you have shown across these years and in the last five weeks your strength of mind, heart, faith and community. The choir sang the story:
Through many dangers, toils and snare I have already come,
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
As I have thought about this day and this context, I want to share with you reflections on dreaming with your eyes open.
That phrase comes from the writings of one who is a treasure here at Boston University: Elie Wiesel. Since 1976 he has been University Professor of Humanities, Philosophy and Religion. He is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, author of over 60 books, survivor of the Holocaust, and proponent of human rights, justice, compassion and sanity from Jerusalem to Johannesburg, Moscow to the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, and Bosnia to Boston. He has confronted the worst in humanity and has sought to call forth the best.
In his novel “The Time of the Uprooted” the central character, Gamaliel Friedman, has faced extraordinary challenges and pain. At one point he reflects on his hope that he can “dream with my eyes open.”
We have all had our eye-opening experiences as we have faced the challenges of this life and world.
Every time I walk across Marsh Plaza, I am swept up again in the chaos of 1970 when I was a student here. On May 4 students were killed at Kent State, students packed the Plaza in protest. The next day the administration building was firebombed here at BU and the deans voted to cancel exams and commencement that year. Waves of bomb scares on campus continued that year. In one 10-day period there were 35 bomb threats.
In the many rallies on the Plaza against the war, we would sing:
“Last night I had the strangest dream I ever had before.
“I dreamed the world had all agreed to put an end to war.”
There we were dreaming, if you will, with our eyes closed to the very violence in our own BU world that we probably could have done something about. The deeds of many did not support the dream we were espousing.
Dreaming with our eyes open lets us see the reality that dreams without deeds are simply daydreaming and deeds detached from great dreams can simply be a life of sleepwalking.
There on Marsh Plaza is now Sergio Castillo’s memorial to BU graduate Martin Luther King, Jr. It is titled “Free at Last,” echoing the last lines of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech delivered 50 years ago. What is often forgotten about that speech is that it was delivered with eyes open to the tough realities he and the civil rights movement faced if the dreams were to become deeds, incarnations of imagination.
Multiple doves of peace ascend from that memorial sculpture out from the university toward the city and the world. They go as we must go, launched from this university, with eyes open, to do the work of peace, to fly in the face of injustice, to soar and not be brought down by disappointment or despair. As Dr. King affirmed, “In spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” Do you?
I like to stand on the Plaza looking toward Commonwealth Avenue and the “T” stop. If the dreams of peace and justice and equality for all — and beauty and wholeness, and the true commonwealth of economic resources, and community empowerment, and care for the environment — are to become reality, then the dream and the dream doers must get on the MBTA and go to the Financial District, and the Government Center, and the arts district, and Roxbury, and over to Dorchester where 8-year-old Martin Richard, who talked of coming to BU, held up his dream on a blue poster board: “No More Hurting People – Peace.” Can it happen?
Last year, standing on Mash Plaza after the Baccalaureate service, I overheard one graduate say to his family, “This is a dream come true!” His dad responded without missing a beat, “So what’s your next dream?” It’s a good questions, not for the sake of the dream only, but because, if our eyes are open, it shapes our next doing, resulting in the incarnation of imagination.
It’s the story of this university – whose very DNA, I would suggest, is dreams nurturing action, D-N-A.
This has never been an institution content with mimicking others or, in the worlds of Paul to the Romans, “Conforming.” Rather, our history has been about “transforming” – dream nurturing action reflecting the imagination of God.
Three Methodists who deeply believed every person is created in the image of God and deserving of an education in the 1860s, with their eyes wide open, had a dream of a university open to everyone, both men and women, all races (they were passionately anti-slavery), all economic statuses, and those of all religions or no religion. This was a radical notion. They already had a school of theology which Harvard offered to take in. But they refused because of the compelling dream they had of fully inclusive education. Their dream was that this education would be totally free to everyone, supported by scholarships (we’re still working on some dreams – a development officer will be at the door to take your checks).
With eyes wide open, and the dream clear to him, Isaac Rich, one of the founders, gave his entire fortune to the dream even before there were any buildings, any faculty, or any students! That’s an incarnation of imagination – matching the dream with a deed. It was the largest single donation that had ever been made to an American college or university. That’s our DNA – Dreams Nurturing Action.
This was only the beginning, with countless stories following of women and men, persons of all races, immigrants, and the poor of Boston – and, indeed, persons from around the world — finding a welcome here, and a superb education here, and their own dreams stirred into deeds and lives that have transformed the world, from here.
With this day, future stories of dreams nurturing action begin — not only in the outstanding global, academic and strategic initiatives being taken by President Brown and the Trustees an faculty, but by you and me. Even Professor Elie Wiesel, 84, said a week ago, “I get the feeling I haven’t even begun. I have so much else to do.” Let’s begin. Let’s commence.
And so we will walk out across Marsh Plaza once again. Let us sense the goodness of this community called Boston University and remember the presence of all who gathered around the ascending doves in caring and compassion, remembering the life of Lingzi Lu for whom coming to Boston University was a dream come true — along with green-tea ice cream and blueberry pancakes. But, with eyes wide open, she had larger dreams, next dreams that included a way called Commonwealth through this great city and down to the harbor pictured on our university seal that leads out to all the world and its needs.
Dream with your eyes open. And hear again the words of Lingzi’s parents: “We want to encourage others who have Lingzi’s ambition and dreams and want to make the world a better place to continue moving forward.”
“Others” – that’s you and me, whatever our connection with this university’s DNA of Dreams Nurturing Action. “Forward” – that’s where we now go, dreaming with eyes wide open. Amen.