“The day is short, the work is great, the reward is much, the Master is urgent.” Indeed. This quotation is written in Hebrew characters around the dome of the Nott Memorial—inscribed in dark tiles on the red band that circles the building. Every time we’ve walked past that majestic building at the heart of our lovely campus, these words were floating up above, whispering: “The day is short, the work is great, the reward is much, the Master is urgent.”
“The day is short.” We all know that, especially here at Union, where the trimester system hurls us through ten intense weeks of classes and clubs and laughter and stress. So carpe diem! Seize the day! Above all things, I encourage exploration. Explore! This means more than travelling or taking a course outside your discipline; those things are too easy. Every single moment contains the potential for exploration: a conversation, an interaction. In each person is a unique universe and in each second are a myriad of possibilities—only realized, only discovered, through exploration.
But, as the Nott reminds us, “The work is great.” Yes, it is. Even the little things require great work, especially exploration. Just think about how often everyone pulls out their cellphones nowadays—during conversations, in lulls between activities, while waiting for a friend. It’s become radical to just sit silently without scrolling on your phone. So be radical! Look around. Look in another human being’s eyes. So often, we are terrified of being our true selves because that means being vulnerable. But I encourage you: Go to new places! Take an unplanned walk, attend a different religious service, join a political rally you believe in.
The work is great, but we cannot let that daunt us; we cannot shrink in the face of adversity. And though life is full of seemingly insurmountable challenges, we do not have to face them alone. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve learned here at Union is the necessity of a Council: a community, a group of people—friends, family, colleagues, professionals, and so on—with whom you can converse and bounce off ideas. As I said, each person contains a universe, but if we only remain inside our own universe, we’ll get lost—isolated. Conversation is invaluable because it unlocks and engages our universes. This world is dynamic; people are dynamic; all of you are dynamic. Explore and engage in this great work we call living, and find a Council of trustworthy people to surround you—to protect and advise you.
I promise you, as the Nott memorial does, “The reward is much.” The education I’ve received at Union has been deep and comprehensive. Personally, I have gained much more than I thought I would, and I owe it to a willingness to explore in a place that values exploration. Hard and honest work pays off; it all pays off—all of it, though in ways you may have never imagined. Every thought, every action, provokes a reaction of some kind—a ripple, a wave. But we must remember: what we think, we are. So be good; be sincere, be true. It’s not as easy as we may think to mask our intentions; intentionality always shows through. So I urge all of you, as I continue to urge myself, to be honest and sincere and brave and willing to open your hearts and your minds.
Finally, as the quotation on the Nott memorial concludes, “The Master is urgent.” Four years ago, Union seemed an exciting and terrifying prospect for most of us—a far-off dream. But we’re here; we’ve lived it, and it’s gone quickly. The times are changing rapidly, for better or for worse. We, the class of 2018, grew up with changing technology—with flip-phones and then iPhones, with Facebook and then Snapchat. Such quick transitions and developments demand deep reflection and consideration: Who are we? Who were we? Where is it we want to go?
I find that more and more, we are closed off from one another. Exploration, in its fullest sense, is impossible if we isolate ourselves in boxes—in our own universe. The Master is urgent. Union College taught us to explore across disciplines and religions and social groups; let us take this message to heart as we go off into the world. The Master is urgent. The world needs us to keep our eyes and our hearts and our arms open. Do not turn away from one another. The Master is urgent.
Class of 2018, my dear friends, congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished here. I wish I could leave you with some firm conclusion—some final words of wisdom, but words and truths quickly become stagnant and stale and outdated. This world demands constant reinvention. This is our work—sacred, unending.
Through it all, our beloved Nott Memorial continues to stand tall. We have passed by it almost every day for four years, and—once in a while—we’ve even run in circles around it, but still it remains—through our wisdom and our foolishness, among our many hopes and fears—it remains and reminds us, “The day is short, the work is great, the reward is much, the Master is urgent.” My dear friends, not fare well, but fare forward.