This article originally appeared in the summer 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Good morning. I would like to welcome the members of the board of trustees, administration, faculty, staff, families, friends, alumni, and the true guests of honor, the graduating Class of 2013, to this year’s commencement exercises. I currently have the privilege of saying a few words of farewell at graduation. Typically my talk takes the form of a final piece of advice, like “Dare to Singletask” or “See like a Baby.” Since my talk is the only thing that stands between you and your diplomas, I will continue the tradition of confining my remarks to one page of single-spaced, size-12 font. However, I make no promises about my margins or font choice. In fact, this year I have chosen the slim yet elegant “Adobe Garamond Pro.”
It is only fitting that I draw my advice to you today from the latest addition to our family, Kona, our new chocolate Lab. I noticed that when I say “chocolate Lab” people immediately understand that I mean a dog and not some strange room or device from Willy Wonka’s factory. Also, there is something about a chocolate Lab that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system unlike any other animal. Perhaps it is the word chocolate – so much more soothing and specific than the word “yellow” for yellow Lab or “black” for black Lab. Also, I just wanted to use the word “parasympathetic” in this talk to make it sound scientific.
What possible advice can I offer from Kona? First, having a puppy improves your social life a little. We now know some of our neighbors a little better. Many have fallen in love with Kona, offered free dog sitting, and some even take her for walks, one neighbor every day. We are talking to neighbors we never knew we had. Kona is a real draw. Why? Because she loves everyone and everything she sees. She wags her tail, draws back her ears and licks generously. We thought she would make a good watch dog, but we soon discovered that the only deterrence she presents to an intruder is licking him to death. She loves unconditionally, like a Labrador.
So my advice to you today is to love like a Labrador. I could have generalized to “love like a canine” but that just sounds too clinical. No, I mean love like a Labrador. Not only does it employ three “L’s” in a row – “alliteration” for those of you who recall your poetic devices – but it singles out perhaps the most loving of dog breeds, the Labrador.
When I say love like a Labrador, I mean to love unconditionally all that you do and all that is around you. Love your job, your significant other, your family, your garden, your driveway. This is easier said than done. The Sufi poet Rumi said that “Gratitude is the open door to abundance,” meaning that it is easy to fall asleep and take for granted what is truly wonderful around you. A Labrador is thrilled to see you in the morning, like you dropped from heaven. Of course, the outside chance that you will feed her helps. Take that same loving attitude to all that you do and you will find the abundance Rumi invokes.
Some will hear this as hopelessly naïve, or will question whether or not we can learn from a dog. No, I haven’t been spending too much time in Santa Cruz, though I hope to this summer. I think loving like a Labrador is supremely practical. If you believe in the law of attraction or karma, then love will attract love. Also, we have much to learn from the so-called “lesser species,” including plants, rivers, mountains and even potatoes. The philosopher Alan Watts dedicated an entire page in one of his books to why a potato is a superior being. It is pretty convincing.
So to conclude, love like a Labrador whatever you do, without condition, with full appreciation and without wobbling. A Zen saying goes, “Walk or sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” If you love like a Labrador, you might find that the world loves you, and that there is very little difference between you and everything you love. Thank you.