Ken Starr: Winter Commencement Address

December 15, 2012
Welcome to the Paul J. Meyer Arena here at the Ferrell Center. Congratulations!

What a great day! A day when dreams come true.


"I have a dream." These words form the heart of the greatest speech of the 20th Century - delivered on the steps of the Memorial in Washington D.C. dedicated to the hero of Stephen Spielberg's magnificent new film - Lincoln.

Dr. King's soaring, Lincoln-esque vision summoned our nation to dream about an America reborn. To dream of a more just society, living harmoniously.

Today, we honor the culmination of your own dream. A dream of a Baylor education or graduate degree - and the gathering together of loved ones who have shared your dream.

In the theme of his mighty address, Dr. King focused on a universal human experience. Dreams.

Think of Scripture.

In the Old Testament, Joseph famously dreamed dreams of greatness - to the chagrin of his envious brothers. (Genesis 37)

In the Christmas story, after the Magi present their gifts to the baby Jesus, they are warned in a dream not to return to the evil Herod sitting on the throne. (Matthew 2:12)

In a dream, Joseph and Mary are told to flee to Egypt to escape the infanticide that is to come. Later, they are told in a dream when it is safe to return to the Promised Land. (Matthew 2:13-15, 2:19-21)

In a dream, Pilate's wife is deeply troubled. She dutifully warns her spouse not to "have anything to do with that innocent man." (Matthew 27:19)

So too, music, art, and literature abound with allusions to dreams.

Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream was brilliantly staged last spring by our magnificent Baylor Theatre.

In Hollywood, the legendary film studio, DreamWorks, is named for the "dream team" -- Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen.

You're much too young, but long ago there was a duo, The Everly Brothers from Brownie, Kentucky, with their hit song: "All I Have to Do Is Dream."

In the 19th Century, a wildly popular song began:
"I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair"
Or, apropos for this Christmastime graduation:
"I'll be home for Christmas...if only in my dreams."
Perhaps you are dreaming right now of a "White Christmas":
I'm dreamin' of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know.
Where the tree tops glisten
And children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

Well, if you are "dreamin' of a white Christmas," I'm sure you're imagining some place far removed from the banks of the Brazos. Or, alternatively, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Dreams. Dreams are part of day-to-day -- or night-by-night --reality.

Neurologists tell us that:
• The average person dreams approximately 2 hours each night.
o This means each of us -- over the course of our lifetimes -- will devote 6 years to dreaming.
• The average person has about 4 dreams every night. That adds up to: 1,460 dreams each and every year.
• Unfortunately for some of us, we cannot dream...while snoring.

When you think of it: Each of us is his or her own dream factory. Each of us is our own "DreamWorks."

But there's a problem. Psychologists tell us that:
• Most of us forget 90% of our dreams. Within 5 minutes of waking, half the dream has evaporated. Within 10 minutes, 90% is entirely forgotten.
• There are also limitations to our dream worlds. Our dreaming minds cannot invent faces from scratch. Therefore, any would-be "stranger" appearing on stage in our dream is actually based on someone we've encountered in real life.
• Harvard psychologist Dr. Deirdre Barrett claims that our slumbering hours help us solve puzzles that have beplagued us during waking hours. The visual -- and often illogical -- dimensions of dreams facilitate, ironically, out-of-the box, creative thinking.
• From psychiatry, Dr. Allan Hobson, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Harvard, maintains that dreams are clumsy narratives stitched together by the forebrain to make sense of biochemical changes and electric pulses originating in the brainstem.

That's way over my head. But whatever the science, we know this: Dreams inspire us. That was the very purpose of Dr. King's glorious address.

Dreams beckon us. Dreams call to us from the realm of the seemingly unattainable. Here at Baylor, we dream of building every day what Henri Nouwen calls "a community of love" - and our deeply caring faculty and staff have come alongside all of our students as we strive every day to realize that dream.

A dream often signifies the beginning of an era. Then, at the end of the era, we reflect back on our dream -- celebrating the accomplishment of what may once have seemed impossible -- like that degree from Baylor.

During a Centennial Celebration two years ago, the United States Air Force Tribute to Space Exploration presented "Off We Go," a musical celebration of the dream that inspired Americans to take to the skies. In preparing for this project, the Director, Colonel Alan Sierichs, was inspired by this simple realization: "To fly is to dream." The seven movements of the piece transport the listener through a timeline of the dream of flight, from humble beginnings over a century ago at Kitty Hawk to the final frontier of space.

The seventh and final movement -- appropriately called Space -- includes these words:
"To fly, not like a bird but like a man through space. To walk upon the moon to look back at the earth [...] To fly like a man has changed the face of the human race."
Hear the enduring words of Neil Armstrong, transmitted from the moon's Sea of Tranquility on July 20, 1969, as he stepped off the lunar lander: "One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's historic moonwalk fulfilled a dream - the dream of President John F. Kennedy. It was a dream that, tragically, our nation's visionary 35th president did not live to see realized.

Time goes by. The Space Race has long since faded into the pages of history. Between the death earlier this year of Neil Armstrong and the recent retirement of the nation's space shuttle program, it may seem somewhat off-key to be guiding our graduation reflections toward a world of dreams. Perhaps the flinty, harsh realities of the 21st Century mean that it is unrealistic to dream dreams any longer.

At every turn, we are told:
• The fiscal cliff looms.
• The debt crisis is upon us.
• Entitlements are wildly out of control.
• There's no money left for education or infrastructure.
• The world is filled with terrorists.
• The tragedies continue: at Columbine; Virginia Tech; or -- just yesterday -- at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
• And on and on.

Indeed, some have argued that our global challenges loom so large that they have, in effect, "downsized" the American dream. They suggest that today's graduates have less optimism that their dreams will be realized. They say it is harder to dream big dreams when this generation is faced with so much uncertainty.

My response is simple: Don't believe it. To draw from Dickens' Christmas Carol, and in the words of the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge: "Bah, humbug!"
In the Baylor spirit: Keep on dreaming. And never let go.

To be sure, there is no question that you will be entering a world posing myriad and daunting challenges. Yes, there are complexities. Yes, there are obstacles. But every generation is called to confront the challenges of their own time.
• Think of Mr. Lincoln and the eradication of slavery.
• Think of Dr. King's generation and the Civil Rights Movement.
• Think of America's Greatest Generation, who fought bravely and nobly in World War II.
o Their post-war world was entirely broken. Much like the post-Civil War South, much of Europe lay in ruins. So too, post-war Japan. But Americans dreamed audaciously and helped build a safer, more just world.
• I have no doubt: By God's grace, your generation will be no exception to the continuing American story of dreaming great dreams. Your dreams will lead to specific plans and concrete policies, to discoveries and innovations and applications that promote human flourishing.
• Your dreams - by God's grace and hard work - will turn today's uncertainty into a grace-filled destiny.

Scripture admonishes us to be able to give a reason for the hope that is within us. Yes, our hope is not in this world. But our hope - our dream - is for this world.

Not far from where we gather today is a small community, Penelope. This tiny Central Texas town, located as they like to say in Penelope "east of West," is the subject of a charming little book, embraced earlier this year by our broader community's reading program, "One Book, One Waco." The book's evocative title: Where Dreams Die Hard.

The book says it's a story about the restoration of a six-man football program in tiny Penelope's high school. But it's much more than that. The book is about recapturing a dream. The book is about turning dreams into reality. It's a community saying, like the Little Engine That Could, "I think I can, I think I can...I know I can."

As you leave the Paul J. Meyer Arena today, we know you can. Because we know this: Your Baylor education has prepared you intellectually, socially, and spiritually to go into the world, to dream great dreams, and then -- with God's help -- to make those dreams come true.

There is a reason for the eternal hope that is within us. It goes far beyond the boundaries of this fallen world. It is a power and force that can move mountains.

Surrounded as we are today by a great cloud of witnesses, your generation cannot allow itself to be confined by the would-be limitations of today's doom-and-gloom naysayers. Like Dr. King, like John Kennedy, like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the men and women of Baylor are to be inspired and energized by the possibilities of tomorrow.

As the Apostle Paul instructs us, "Stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13) And today, we add, to accompany our congratulations on what you have accomplished during your years at Baylor: "dare to dream."

God bless each and every one of you on this special day.

Merry Christmas. And congratulations.
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