Doctoral Hooding Ceremony May 8, 2015. Photos by Katie Williamson

Doctoral Hooding Ceremony May 8, 2015. Photos by Katie Williamson

For all the grad students out there (or maybe everyone)…take a look at this face. This is one of my brand new PhDs, Lindsay Schnetzer.

If you are struggling, suffering, wondering, let me promise you I saw this one struggle, suffer, and wonder.

I mean all the way down into the deeps.

Perhaps worse than the dramatic variety of suffering, it was resigned suffering. It was the sort of suffering that happens when you settle, when you short change yourself, you do something good, worthwhile, but not your heart’s desire.

And, you know it.

You know that you are on a path because it is safe and sure. You know that you will never know what was possible, longed for, because you held back.

That day, in that conversation, she let go of doing what she knew how to do perfectly for something she could not even name, let alone do with certainty.

My mentorship of Lindsay​ began that day with an epically painful conversation that bottomed out in a question: What do you want? Truly want?

I was not looking for an answer. It is common to not know the answer to that question. What I was looking for was the willingness to enter into a conversation with an uncertain, but heartfelt, destination.

She wobbled, gulped, struggled for a moment to keep two paths. But in the end, she said “yes,” if not loud, certainly clear.

Make life count. Invest yourself. I have often said that I have a terrible sense of destination, but a terrific sense of direction.

Assume you have that gift. Choose. Choose heart and soul. Choose with each breath.

Let go of half-gods and half-goods.

In Emerson’s words

“Heartily know,
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.”

And one day, a smile like this might inhabit your face.

Give that day a chance.

Discernment of a heart’s desire is no easy matter. Find teachers. Allow guidance. Stay true to yourself.

In saying “stay true to yourself” – I am not proclaiming over-romanticised, irresponsible, self-involvment. If you know Lindsay Schnetzer, you know that there was not a scrap of romanticism or self-involvement in that choice. It was a matter of trust. Of her, trusting herself, trusting her own sense of direction.

As a teacher, seeing a student make such a choice is like having a sort of natural wonder, like the Grand Canyon or some fabulous sunset, right in your office. Watching that choice unfold and come to fruition, more beautiful still. It generates a particular sort of smile, one with a great well of tears just the other side of it.

I have seen this smile on more than my share of students over the years, but this photographer, on this particular doctoral hooding night, captured that moment perfectly. A student and a mentor, recognizing the beautiful arc of a road well-traveled. Together.

It is worth stopping to acknowledge. Worth looking into that face, again, and imagining what smile might inhabit your face or my own face, offered such a chance. Gently, persistently.

I am, this moment, imagining what it means for me. It is worthwhile lingering a moment to see the broader meaning of it for us all.

Moments like these are not one-off. The possibilities in radical self-trust, and the deepest kindness in offering it, lay dormant in every moment.

Thanks Lindsay, for the chance to travel with you. And for that choice. And for that amazing smile on the 8th of May, 2015. I am privileged to have lived a life with so many of these moments and doubly privileged that this one was caught on camera so that I can savor it and share it.

Namaste from Oxford, Mississippi,



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  1. Linds

    Thank you, Kelly, for this beautiful post..

    For the intellectual and spiritual journey.

    For allowing me to learn from you and be a member of the lab community.

    For the opportunities to “see and be seen,” to “carry and be carried.”

    For showing me (gently and persistently) how to sit, in kindness, with myself and with others in emotional pain.

    I will humbly and passionately bring these gifts to those whom I serve. And perhaps I’ll read to someone else, the words you read to me that day: 

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    With my deepest gratitude for your guidance in my becoming,


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