Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.
He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.
I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.
What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?
Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.
Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.