Because it is Commencement season (for colleges and high schools), people will be talking about Commencement speeches: who was good (prediction: Stephen Colbert!), who fizzled out, etc.
One of the best Commencement speeches I’d ever heard was at a high school. It talked about an old African legend about lions, and danger, and choosing your path. I don’t remember the speaker, and I can’t find a link to the commencement speech transcript online. But I did find a link to another person retelling the story (thank you, Steve Barnhill). Here goes:
“I once heard an old African folk tale entitled ‘Running into the Roar.’ Its intent was to teach that our survival instincts can sometimes be lethal. The fable has value for us now.
According to the story, a herd of gazelles was feeding lazily on the grasses of the Serengeti, when a pride of hungry lions caught wind of them.
Setting the table for dinner, the lions walked stealthily toward the gazelles, but stopped well short, downwind of the herd, at which time an feeble, old male lion broke silently from the others and snuck around to the far side of the antelopes, positioning himself in the tall grass where he could not be seen.
Once the frail lion – which posed no real threat to the speedy gazelles — was in place, other members of the pride jumped to their feet and rushed at full speed toward to herd of antelopes.
Instinctively, the startled antelopes sensed danger and, with lightening reactions, fled directly away from the approaching predators. Safety, they knew, awaited them that way.
Of course, in this instance, that way was the way toward the old lion staged cleverly in the tall grasses.
As the herd approached him, the frail old lion stood up, gathered all of his strength, and roared with all the meanness he could muster.
Egad! thought the gazelles. Hold everything! We’re going the wrong way! Let’s turn around and get out of here! It’s dangerous going this direction.
The antelopes quickly executed a u-turn and ran straight for the powerful jaws of the approaching pride.
Safety, the moral tells, is sometimes found not in running away from a perceived threat, but heading directly into it. Instincts can’t always be trusted.”
I remember the commencement speaker ending with this final shot to the graduates: run into the roar.
Commencement can feel like a scary time for our graduates. There can be uncertainty about where they are going, what their jobs will be, whether they will like it. They might feel joy or fear or excitement or dread – or more likely, all of those things at once.
Wake might feel like their safe place, and leaving it might cause some anxious moments. But remind them that they are smart, and ready, and skilled, and wonderful critical thinkers and hard workers and they’ll be up for the challenge.
Tell them to run into the roar.