PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — What is it like to feel gratitude and grief at the same time? Brown University’s Class of 2022 has some idea.
On Saturday, May 28, the graduating seniors packed into the standing-room-only First Baptist Church in America in the midst of Commencement and Reunion Weekend to take part in the Baccalaureate, a colorful, multi-faith service whose core components date back to the University’s founding.
Much of the event was as happy and celebratory as in years past: There were wide smiles, heartfelt hugs, peals of laughter, and songs and dances filled with pure joy. But many of the performances, prayers and speeches made clear that the Class of 2022 wasn’t just prepared to celebrate; they were also prepared to reflect, together, on the tough times when they didn’t feel like celebrating.
“For some of us, a cloud hangs over our party,” admitted Sarah Kim, a graduating senior, from the pulpit of the church, where Brown’s graduates have gathered since 1776. “And so we acknowledge grief’s presence — in the faces we had hoped would be here with us today, in the experiences we hoped to have before walking out of the gates, and in our tear-soaked sleeves as we wave goodbye to people and faces who have come to mean so much to us.”
In a student-led portion of the Baccalaureate program titled “Wisdom from Our Traditions,” Kim told her fellow graduates, who sat masked in the audience, that she felt as if she was standing at an intersection — of gratitude for the first fully in-person Commencement since 2019, and grief from the heartbreaks of the two-year COVID-19 pandemic. But at that uncomfortable intersection, she said, there are valuable lessons to be gleaned.
“The same secret corners where we cried over setbacks, heartbreak and loss were also sites of meaningful accomplishment, where we sharpened and comforted each other,” she said. “Today, we take the time to appreciate the flowers that grew in the concrete. How wonderful it is that we have learned not to take each other, or gatherings like these, for granted.”