May is a month full of joy - a time of celebrations. Catalpas and peonies harmoniously trumpet commencement tidings. Graduations abound. Candidates are being awarded degrees: doctors of medicine, law, phd’s in theology. Dissertations following years of research are complete and ready for publication. Processions of academia robed in black gowns trimmed with velvet and shiny colored satin are parading on campus lawns with tasseled mortar boards in step to the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance.
The Magdalene Graduation is joy-filled event where we celebrate women who have achieved incredible milestones and completed the two-year program. This year as hosts for the event, the women of St. Bartholomew's
once again showed us what hospitality looks like. They let us use their lovely sanctuary, gave gifts to honor the graduates and fed us until we were physically, and spiritually, full.
Our honored speaker this year was Carole Hagan. Carole has served the women of Thistle Farms & Magdalene for many years as a full-time volunteer events coordinator, a chair for the fundraiser, a gifted photographer and editor, former recipient of the Thistle Farmer Award, and a mentor and role model to many women. We asked her to share a message of encouragement and inspiration at the ceremony this year:
None, not one, can compare with this graduation. None of those accomplishments can compare with what you have achieved. Those of you graduating today, our past graduates and our residents. Remember this day. Remember how you feel and who is sitting beside you. Who you are holding up and who is holding you to do what none of us can do alone, but we can do together.
Having taught school for about 25 years, I have heard many graduation speeches. I do know that everyone who has ever given a graduation speech, wanted it to be inspiring. I am no exception. So I thought I might share with you some of what has inspired me.
On my desks at school and at Thistle Farms, I taped quotes to guide my day, to keep my priorities in check. At school one of the quotes was one from Anne Frank, who with her family went into hiding when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands. They were betrayed and sent to the death camps where Anne died in 1945 at the age of 16. As oft-quoted part of her diary reads:
“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death.” Anne Frank had risen above, had transcended the atrocities of the Holocaust. You, my friends, are forging ahead, remembering the past, but not letting the past define who you are today. You are building up your hopes on a foundation of healing love.
Another quote on my school desk was from an educator, Charles Fowler, who said:
“If we fail to touch the humanity of students, we have not really touched them at all.” Inspired by his quote, my goal for each of my students was to find her voice and cherish it - then use it to go out into the world and touch humanity.
My granddaughter, Maddie, at the tender age of either four or five taught me about finding your voice. I was driving her on a ghastly hot summer day to meet the bus for Camp Whippoorwill. She asked for my help on a personal problem. “Gitty," - the name she gave to me - "I have been trying to decide whether to try to fit into the group or just be myself.”Weeks later I asked her if the problem had been resolved. With bewilderment that it had ever been a problem, she cheerfully replied,
“Yes, Gitty, I found that when I am myself, I fit in just fine.” You, my friends, have found your voice and speak your truth. You and your courage have touched so many lives, brought so many people to their knees. We cannot begin to comprehend the enormity of your sacred work.
One more quote that was on my school desk is from Albert Camus, a French philosopher and Nobel Prize winner.
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” You, my friends, have discovered your invincible summer, realizing that you can push back against the world with the stronger force of love. On my desk at Thistle Farms I taped a quote from Micah, one of the lesser prophets of the Hebrew Bible.
“What does the LORD require of you? To do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Every time we light the candle in our mediation circle for the women who are still out on the streets and every time you tell your stories, we are fighting injustice. In Nashville, in Africa, in South America. Even in Asia, that group of sweet ladies from Korea who loved our Holli. We are part of a global movement committed to women’s freedom.
God knows our world is in dire need with hundreds of terrified young girls captured in Nigeria, sexual assault rampant and our waiting list of one hundred women on our very streets praying for the sanctuary of Magdalene.
The last quote I ever taped to my Thistle Farms’ desk was:
“Dear God, Please help me live my every day through the lens of abundance rather than that of scarcity and that I end the day with more things done than left undone. Amen” That was written by Lisa Froeb in March 2013 three months before her death. We all loved Lisa and miss her deeply. Lisa was a lover of mercy, a fighter of injustice, and she walked humbly with her God. She was a dedicated warrior for Magdalene and Thistle Farms.
We are charged with what Becca wrote about Lisa - She walked with grace upon this earth. We grieve her beautiful bounded body’s passing. Seen in signs and memories she helps us walk through our mourning. She calls like a saint for us to keep walking, keep loving, keep close, till we reach the other side of time on love’s eternal shore. By Carole Hagan Magdalene Board Member and Longtime Thistle Farms Volunteer