On Wednesday, April 11, 2018 we gathered to celebrate the BIC graduating students of 2018. As part of the banquet, Jessica Schurz was voted by her peers as the female BIC student to represent her graduating class and was invited to offer a few words to her fellow graduating seniors. We hope you enjoy reading her remarks from that evening’s festivities.
In the spirit of BIC, I want to begin with a story.
It was the first day of my freshman year at Baylor and I was lost.
I had five minutes to get to the second class of the day, World Cultures I. Epic of Gilgamesh in hand, I hurried across Fountain Mall with the scorching August Texas sun blazing above me. Panting, I opened the door and, to my shock, found an empty classroom. It was the first of many times that I went to small group instead of large group.
On that first day of freshman year, I was also lost in another sense. My official major was “undecided” and my parents and home were on the other side of the Atlantic, where I had grown up in Zambia. I had the blind confidence of someone graduating from a small high school and was still not quite sure how I ended up living in Waco. I felt much like Sam Gamgee at the end of The Two Towers when he asks Frodo, “I wonder what sort of story we’ve fallen into?”
When I eventually found the right classroom, I was delighted by what I saw: a Lord of the Rings themed lecture depicting our journeys as BIC students. It was a moment of familiarity and a breath of fresh air in the midst of stifling uncertainty. I left that BIC classroom feeling confident that I had fallen into the right story.
This hermeneutic of story-telling continued to be an essential aspect of my BIC experience.
In World Cultures II, we all read Arabian Nights. As you recall, this beautiful collection of 1001 Middle Eastern folk tales compiles stories from across the Arabic world. It begins when the Persian Sultan Sharayan executes his wife after learning of her infidelity. Following this betrayal, he invites a young virgin into his quarters, only to execute her in the morning. This cycle of tragedy continues for another 1001 nights, until he meets Sharazad. She, accompanied by her sister Dinarzad, tells the Sultan stories filled with laughter, strife, and love. Sharazad’s 1001 stories soften the Sultan’s heart and he asks for her hand in marriage.
Arabian Nights is quintessentially BIC. It teaches us that stories matter, that stories possess a kind of magic, and that stories, when used well, have the power to be transformative. Each of the characters in Arabian Nights has a rich lesson to teach us; I will focus on four in particular.
Sharazad illustrates the art of storytelling. As our time in BIC comes to an end, let us continue to tell stories well. In my current World Cultures V class, we read CS Lewis’ essay Experiment in Criticism, where he argues that stories are essential to human flourishing. He writes, “We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is ‘I have got out’. Or from another point of view, ‘I have got in’; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside.” Sharazad, through the telling of her stories, helped the Sultan to “get out” of his own violence and tragedy. She offered him a window. BIC has prepared us well in this great art of window-making and taught us to be faithful stewards of stories. We saw this exemplified by Dr. Long’s storytelling in large groups moving us to tears. In another sense, stories allow us to leave our caves of flickering shadows and enter into the light.
We must also take with us the spirit of Dinarzad, the supporting sister. Every night for 1001 nights, she sat by her sister’s side. She teaches us the importance of coming alongside others with compassion and patience. There may be a time when we, too, sit by each other for 1001 nights. Dinarzad’s relationship with her sister also reminds us that we cannot accomplish anything alone. We could not have completed our Examined Life reflection journals without gathering together in Moody the night before they were due; we could not have written our New York Times papers without the comfort of solidarity; we could not have reflected on the zen qualities of the Japanese flower garden in Dallas without one another. Let us be like Sam Gamgee, willing to endure the treacherous road to Mordor, all in support of a dear friend. Let us be like Penelope, who, when her husband Odysseus returned to Ithaca from 20 years at sea, welcomes him home. There will be many moments ahead that will require us to extend this patient and persistent love to others.
We must also learn from the characters in Sharazad’s stories. They participated in their work fully and unapologetically. They capture the spirit of Walt Witman’s “I celebrate myself, and sing myself;” a trait we all have certainly seen in the BIC. The image that most comes to mind is during World Cultures II when Mr. Dr. Zori led a lecture on Vikings. One particular slide featured an ancient Viking poem, both in English and in its original old Norse. Dr. Zori read it, of course, in the old Norse. Every day, we are faced with the choice of reading in English and reading in old Norse, and we often choose the former. We constantly choose to reveal less of ourselves to others. As we leave BIC, let us be encouraged to, whenever possible, read the Viking poem in old Norse. To use another example, when we eat at a Mediterranean restaurant and are faced with the choice of belly dancing or not belling dancing, we should all choose to belly dance.
Looking ahead, there will be a time to tell stories like Sharazad, to support like Dinarzad, and to live without reservation like the many characters in their tales. Each of these roles is essential. However, I am convinced that we learn our most important lesson from a surprising source: Sharayar, the tragic Sultan. From Sharayar, we learn the importance of listening to others’ stories. Although this is of the highest importance, it is perhaps the most difficult task we can undertake. It requires us to directly contradict the current meta-narrative of myopia and success. This often keeps us from listening to stories at all. Or when we do we, like Sharayar, listen with a hardened heart.
For these reasons, we must learn to cultivate that habit of listening. Even more challenging, we must listen in order to better understand. Nigerian author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, whose speech we heard at the beginning of Cultures IV, says that the Igbo word for ‘hello’ loosely translates to ‘I see you.’ Let us listen to our neighbors’ stories with the intention of better seeing one another.
To quote Lewis again, “In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” Upon leaving our BIC classrooms for the last time, let us listen to 1001 stories, become a thousand men, become a thousand women, and in doing so, carry with us the spirit of BIC.