Palmer commencement speech: ‘The renewal this nation needs will not come from people who are afraid of otherness’

Parker Palmer
Parker Palmer Courtesy photo,

In 2015, Parker Palmer gave a speech at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., that is often referred to as ”one of the greatest commencement speeches of all time.” Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal, is a world-renowned writer of nine books, speaker and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. His speech was brought to my attention by my friend, Debbie Stanley of Little River, a lead national and international facilitator for the Center for Courage & Renewal, who was mentored by Palmer. The speech can be found on the website

Since it is too long to write in its entirety, it will be continued next week. As we attempt to walk into and through a brand-new year and all that it holds for each of us, maybe Palmer’s words can help.

It is titled “The Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life.”

Palmer said: “Be reckless about affairs of the heart.

What I really mean is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, ‘I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving, and self-protective life I lived.’

“Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

“To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success. Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice.

“As you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, ‘I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,’ the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.

“As a person who has made three deep dives into depression along the way, I do not speak lightly of this. I simply know that it is true.

“As you acknowledge and embrace all that you are, you give yourself a gift that will benefit the rest of us as well. Our world is in desperate need of leaders who live what Socrates called’ ‘an examined life.’ In critical areas like politics, religion, business, and the mass media, too many leaders refuse to name and claim their shadows because they don’t want to look weak. With shadows that go unexamined and unchecked, they use power heedlessly in ways that harm countless people and undermine public trust in our major institutions.

“As you welcome whatever you find alien within yourself, extend that same welcome to whatever you find alien in the outer world. I don’t know any virtue more important these days than hospitality to the stranger, to those we perceive as ‘other’ than us.

“The old majority in this society, people who look like me, is on its way out. By 2045 the majority of Americans will be people of color… Many in the old majority fear that fact, and their fear, shamelessly manipulated by too many politicians, is bringing us down. The renewal this nation needs will not come from people who are afraid of otherness in race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. (to be continued)

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Peggy Mishoe,, 365-3885.