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“A Simple Gift”

Commencement Poem
May, 2008 By Toby Baker


I have a wish for you this fine spring day—
a day when all dreams seem possible.
It’s a wish for an extraordinary kind of gift.
The gift?  It’s called work.
No, it’s not the “I-gotta-get-a-job” kind of work.
And, no, it’s not the “Spectacular-Capital-B-Benefits” kind of work.
It’s a magical kind of work—the kind you would even do for free.
The kind of work that gets you out of bed every morning,
Even after your kids are grown.
It’s that kind of work.  


I read a story once about a community—
A community that punished by preventing the accused from working.
All day long those being punished watched others work—
The plowing, the planting, the harvesting, the grinding, the baking.
They watched the sewing, the washing, the ironing.  
But could not contribute.  
Each meal they ate food they did not help prepare.
They wore clothes they did not launder.  
And, when the punishment was over
They were granted the simple gift to work.


I know what it’s like to be in the wrong job—
the wrong job fits like shoes that cause blisters.
The wrong job steals your dreams
and drains your spirit
and reminds you every dreary minute
that the work you’re doing
does not fit.
There is no pride, no satisfaction—
only the glorious release at the end of the day
with the sour knowledge it is not over.


The gift of work I wish for you will have moments—
moments when it all seems so easy.
The pieces fit, the deal goes through.
There are no snags.
But I also wish for you failure.
Not once but many times.  
The kind that force you to start over.
I want there to be puzzles that drive you crazy,
so big that your mind can barely wrap around them.
For you I want mysteries that require great risk.


This is the gift I wish for you this fine spring day—
a day so fine that dreams come true.  
I wish for you the kind of work that makes you tired,
at the end of the day, tired, knowing you did good work.
Work that brings a secret smile—
a knowing smile, knowing your work makes a difference.
Build, transform, invest, write, sing, create, nurse and explore.
Research, paint, dance, protect, dig, sift, launch and dream.
All of this I wish for you this fine spring day—
a day so fine it will support one simple wish.