Reunions can be complicated. Perhaps, people find them so complicated because they evoke so many memories, both positive and negative. Reunions raise as many questions about tomorrow as they do about yesterday. Last weekend I attended my 20th college reunion. It so happens it was the first reunion I’ve attended since graduating.
I have to say that it was a wonderful experience. Being back on campus felt like a return home. The experience did, indeed, stir up a flood of memories. Luckily, I found all of them to be positive.
What the experience did for me was to confirm just how important it is to allow yourself to recall and to reflect on the seminal moments in life. There were moments in the dorm, in the library, and on the practice field that shaped who I am and who I am becoming in distinct ways.
Seminal moments help to define us. They clarify our belief systems. They close doors while opening others. They reveal pathways once invisible to us.
Seminal moments are precious because they often don’t seem so seminal in the moment. Often, they are the casual moments that manage to break through the noise around us, capturing our attention and forcing us to focus on new things in new ways.
Seminal moments come in bright colors, but they also may come with dark clouds. Fortunately, the seminal moments for me in the 20 years since I left Stanford have been mostly positive.
There was one moment that occurred this weekend that took me by surprise. It happened on the Family Adventure Race, a quasi-scavenger hunt that sent families scouring across campus in a quest to complete as many challenges and answer as many trivia questions as possible in an hour. The first team back with the most points would win.
I signed myself and my three kids up for the race thinking (mistakenly) it would offer us an opportunity to stroll leisurely around the campus, taking in the beauty and the vastness of the Stanford campus. Somehow I overlooked the word “race” in the description. Maybe I saw it and didn’t really understand what “race” means to Stanford alumni. After all, none of us are strangers to competition.
Race, for some families, meant winning. It entailed a full sprint, in the rain, from one venue to another with the anticipation of winning “the” prize at the end. About half way through the race, it was clear to me that I was in no shape to run at full speed, in the rain, around a campus where almost everyone has a bicycle, skateboard, or something with wheels attached to it.
We were going to lose. I was okay with that, although I’m not sure my kids would say the same. So, I decided to slow down. That’s when the seminal moment of the weekend, at least for me, presented itself. My seminal moment came in the middle of that race when I stumbled on a poster for a new exhibition at Green Library, one of the larger libraries in the heart of the campus.
The poster was promoting Movements for Change: The Bob Fitch Photography Archive at Stanford Libraries, an exhibit featuring nearly 275,000 images taken by legendary photographer Bob Fitch. As a student of social movements, and as a scholar who specializes in collective action, I was captivated. I had never heard of Bob Fitch, but I could just tell from the one photo on display in the case right in front of me that I was a fan.
So, I did some research. As I suspected, Bob Fitch’s life story is amazing.
Fitch’s life is a clear example of the power of seminal moments to transform us and those around us. Fitch, a white seminary student who was enrolled at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California in 1965, read James Baldwin’s classic book The Fire Next Time. The book made an indelible impression on him. It changed his life.
Fitch was so moved by Baldwin’s work that it stirred him to the soul. He left seminary school and instead chose a different path. Using his viewfinder as his canvas, Bob Fitch “shadowed” activists throughout the 1960s in some of the most important movements in modern American history.
Today, Fitch’s photographs provide a snapshot of some of the more seminal moments in American history over the last 60 years. In Fitch’s own words, his “archives are a principal source for the iconic images of the peace, social justice & cultural movements of the last 60 years — intimate photo documentary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & the Black Civil Rights Movement; Cesar Chavez & the United Farmworkers; Dorothy Day & the Catholic Workers; Joan Baez & David Harris & the Draft Resistance; Fathers Phillip & Daniel Berrigan; Congressman Ronald V. Dellums & other participants in this vibrant period of history.”(Source: http://www.bobfitchphoto.com/)
Stumbling upon the Movements for Change poster was a seminal moment for me. It confirmed in that very instance that what I have been doing in the 20 years since Stanford has indeed been to play from my soul. It was a silent testimony, confirming that I made the right choices.
The reunion allowed me to reunite myself with my hopes and aspirations, not just for myself but for others. It reminded me that the 18 year old student who first walked on the campus in the fall of 1990 was idealistic and passionate about social justice. It validated my belief that you can do extraordinary things if you simply have the courage to play from your soul. It inspired me to do what I can to ensure that my children are able to play from their souls.
At Symphonic Strategies we often talk about the importance of seminal moments to collective action. Bob Fitch’s work tells the story of what is possible when individuals come together in the pursuit of something extraordinary.
Being on campus reminded me that it’s important in the race of life to pause and to allow seminal moments to occur. As I found that day, the potential for seminal moments are all around us. We simply have to be willing to see them. Bob Fitch saw them and he documented them so others could see and appreciate them too.
I encourage you to pause the race and allow the seminal moments around you to take shape. I can’t promise all of them will be pleasant. I can promise that they will pour into you in ways that are transformative and instructive–if you allow them.