Photo of MOMIX performanceNothing gets me feeling inspired to be creative like graduation at University of the Arts, where I’ve taught part-time for the past ten years. Six-hundred students in fields ranging from painting to musical theatre and multimedia can exude a lot of energy, especially when they are fired up about graduating. Then there are the award-winning alumni, the proud faculty and parents, and the speeches on creativity. I left feeling like I had been given a much-needed injection of inspiration.

Last year I wrote about President Sean Buffington’s talk on the importance of nerve. This year Buffington talked about the artist’s need and special ability to deal with uncertainty. The main commencement address was delivered by choreographer Moses Pendleton, who founded MOMIX dance company and co-founded Pilobolus Dance Theatre. (If you’ve seen pictures of muscular people creating impossible sculptures with their bodies, that’s probably them.) After a humorous start referencing last year’s talk on nerve, Pendleton told the story of how he ended up creating a ground-breaking form of dance after first intending to become a cattle farmer and then a champion skier. A fluke accident his freshman year of college ruined his ski career, and a series of serendipitous events led him to a unique path that he couldn’t possibly have planned. I don’t remember the exact wording, but he said something like, “If hard work and talent don’t lead you to your path, accidents and missteps will.” It was clear he had worked hard and was talented, but his willingness to take risks and find the opportunity in the accidents seemed equally responsible for his success.

Pendleton did not use religious language, but by the end I felt he was talking about callings and discernment. He said something about it not being your destination but your journey that was important, which reminded me of Barbara Brown Taylor and her quote in my Belonging to God post from a few weeks ago. The nerve theme strikes me as not that different than what I mean when I talk about living with trust in a spiritual sense. It has to do with taking leaps of faith and not looking down when you’re in the air.

Toward the end, Pendleton got more abstract, but also more passionate, talking about nature and the artist’s obligation to make the messages of nature accessible to people who aren’t paying attention to nature. He was very excited about a large number of sunflowers that he’s growing and said that he still loves cows.

I’ve been trying to focus lately on how I do what I’m doing, rather than worrying about what I should be doing next—how to keep that love and passion alive, when there is so much in the world that can clog up our creative and spiritual arteries. I left yesterday’s commencement wanting to plant sunflowers and ideas. I hope our graduates felt the same.