Congratulations, Grace, Santi, and Rian!
Over a very special Zoom ceremony, we celebrated the achievements of three incredible Link students. With speeches from staff, thoughtful comments from families, and even a special furry guest, it was a graduation to remember.
Read James’s comments he shared at graduation below – or view our Year 12 slideshow on Flickr!
A Graduation Message from James Orlet, Executive Director
Our plan was to be breaking camp and passing through State Line Rapid on the Dolores this morning. But that is not where we are. We are needing to adjust. We ended up with a different lesson this year. We didn’t finish up in the way we expected but we did finish and I could not be more proud of the work that you all did to get across that line.
I feel confident in saying that each of us was pushed this spring. Each of us needed to dig a little deeper. Each of us needed to commit maybe more than we expected. Maybe more than we thought we had. Each of us had to offer a little more love to some one – a little more grace, a little more patience. But in many ways, these past few months have been unifying amid the distancing. We can think of the isolation and the pain that seemed to cause or we can think of the connections and the acts of selflessness and love that came daily in response.
Yes, it has been tough but we are tougher. You all know what strength is- it is reaching out past ourselves and our needs and wants and focusing on the larger picture, focusing on others.
The devil is holding a fire sale and getting rid of everything he owns, everything.
He is in his shop with all of his earthly possessions on the shelves, on the floor, and hanging on the wall behind him on display. He is selling it all- chemical weapons, envy, greed, fear, you name it. It is near the end of the day and he has sold just about everything when a customer comes up to the counter and asks him how much he is charging for the simple looking wedge that is behind him hanging on the wall. The devil turns and looks at the wedge and turns back to the man who is asking to buy it. The devil tells the man that the wedge is not for sale, that he will never sell the wedge, never let it go. The man asks what the devil uses the wedge for and the devil responds that it is the wedge of discouragement.
He describes it as being all he needs to do his work, to have his impact, to have his control. He uses it to slowly wedge his way into situations where we would normally be resilient and strong. He uses it to separate us from our peace from our strength and from our determination. He uses it to try to separate us from Love.
Now I don’t believe the devil exists, but I do believe that giving in to discouragement is what tries to control us. When we wake to the fact that we are loved and that there is no possible way for us to be separated from God’s Love, from divine Love, the discouragement disappears. What can seem so real and so incredibly powerful, in reality, is powerless discouragement is an imposter do not let fear or discouragement wedge itself into your life- into your dreams.
It may be difficult to remember the year before March but let’s be careful not to lose that year. These past months have held lots of lessons for us but there were experiences, and trips, trials, and success before March.
There were sunrises over the canyon walls on Green River,
There was releasing baby turtles into the surf in the evening in Todos Santos,
There was barrel racing and mountain bike racing,
There was meeting Mona, one of the 12 indigenous grandmothers,
And Major General Kathy Thomas, teaching us about true leadership and service,
There was Shakespeare in the small theatre in Denver,
There was laughter and struggle, joy, success, failure, and perseverance,
There was riding in the cool evening desert breeze,
And climbing on the dark Wingate sandstone,
There were sunny days in the snowy mountains,
And cold night warmed by the fire in the hut.
This was our year. This was who we were together and who we are. We don’t give up. We don’t let discouragement keep us down. We wrapped up our year laughing and joyful and we get to graduate our incredible seniors just the same way we always do, with great expectations, with great love, with full hearts.
We choose the theme of gratitude this year as our foundation and as our basis. We didn’t choose this with the understanding that we would be grateful only if things went well.
No, we chose gratitude as our theme knowing we would be tested, knowing we would have to work at it. We chose it as a stance for good, and I am darn glad we chose it.
I can think of so many times these past months when I have heard gratitude and felt love from this community when I know it took work to feel grateful. What a gift. What maturity to reach out to lift others when you are feeling low, feeling sad, feeling afraid. Fear doesn’t have a chance in the face of gratitude. Neither does loneliness, and neither does pain.
You all used gratitude like your own personal light source this year. So many times you let gratitude, rather than a complaint, be your response. So many times we saw you lighten people’s day and soften their thought with your thank-yous and your grace. You used gratitude like a pathfinder when you were lost.
I can think of dozens of reasons that I am grateful for each of our graduates.
Grace, I am grateful for your deep sense of love for people and your desire to serve those who seem to have been left behind. Rian, I am grateful for your open heart and your desire to share beauty with the world through your art and your words. Santi, I am grateful for your strength, for your joy, for your desire to push yourself.
I have loved this time with you all and when we didn’t have time in person together, I have loved seeing you all work and shine and grow stronger. We have faced this together and we have not let it take our joy and not let it claim our peace.
Each Friday night since March, the local high school has had what they call Friday Night Lights down at the stadium. Students and families drive by in their cars or park in the lot and talk through rolled down windows to their teachers who stand outside – 6’ apart wearing masks and gloves and saying high to their students. They smile and wave and hold signs of encouragement as the lights of the football field are on in the background to bring people in. It is a powerful way to connect and to celebrate together our unwillingness as a community to give up.
In mid-April, when it finally became clear that you all were not going to be able to come back to Link for the last few weeks, my family and I were down and we drove by a teacher holding a sign that read “YOU ARE SO LOVED”. I thought back to weeks of uncertainty and fear, and to the disappointments and I realized that none of the human plans mattered. What mattered was written on that sign.
There is uncertainty and there is the unknown and these can be scary and challenging
But you get to choose how you will handle challenge in your life. You get to choose if it will limit you or if it will destroy you. You get to decide. Will you use challenge as an excuse or as an opportunity? Will you use it as an excuse to treat others poorly, or will you respond with love? Will you hold good only for yourself, or will you reach out when there is a need? You get to decide if you will treat love as a finite commodity, or to treat it as the greatest power there is and as renewable as the sun’s rays. You get to decide if you will give into discouragement or if you will “Hold fast that which is good.”
There is this idea from a hymn that I love; it reads “…eager ears, expectant, joyful…” It is asking us to listen and to do it willingly, and to be expectant of joy. What a beautiful thing to ask. What a brave choice, in the face of all that is out there, to expect good and to be joyful in the process. We want for you to choose to allow anything to lift you up and nothing to keep you down.
This morning finds us full of joy and expectation, full of promise and full of gratitude. Despite the seeming distance between us, we are together. Yes, the future is far from certain, but that doesn’t matter. You are ready. You are strong, and capable, and caring. You are ready. You are leaving here with every tool you need. You are leaving here with love in your hearts. You are heading out on grand and wonderful adventures. You are heading out with the love of your parents, your classmates, and the staff and you are heading out with the most powerful support there is, God’s perfect love, the love that casts out fear.
And you are indeed so loved.