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Invocation Address 2021

Matilda Rose Cantwell, M.S.W. ’96
College Chaplain, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life

Photo of Matilda Cantwell


Watch on Facebook: Matilda Cantwell’s remarks start at 36:12.

Good morning, and welcome. Before we begin this morning, I invite us to take a moment of quiet, acknowledging and cherishing all those we have loved and lost this past year, from COVID or otherwise. May their memories be a blessing, may broken hearts among us let in the light of the world. We ask in this moment for an end to violence, dispossession and xenophobia. In a time when breath has not been, and for some has never been, guaranteed, and has been extinguished by forces of hate, I invite us all to breathe deeply in the name of justice and truth.

I will now offer Smith College’s Land Acknowledgment.

We acknowledge that this campus is built within the ancestral homelands of the Nonotuck peoples. We also recognize our present-day neighboring Indigenous nations: the Nipmuc and the Wampanoag to the East, the Mohegan and Pequot to the South, the Mohican to the West, and the Abenaki to the North. We acknowledge, too, the presence of Native people among and all around us.

Welcome to faculty and welcome to Smith college staff who have completed one Herculean task after another, with grit and grace, culminating in this day. Welcome to all of you watching from all over the world: parents, grandparents, siblings, family and chosen family. Welcome, everyone. 

Welcome seniors.

This was not the senior year that you pictured. This is not the graduation ceremony that you pictured in more ways than one. There is a distance between those of us here, and those loved ones and friends, and alumni and people joining us remotely from miles away. As with the past 14 months, we are socially distanced. As you look around, there are spaces between the chairs. 

But let us take a moment to consider these spaces. Writers and musicians talk about the white space, or the space between the words or the rests between the notes—this is where we find the the real meaning, hear the real music.

Let us consider how spaces have opened up in which the disparities in the health system, an even deeper understanding of the environmental crisis and the urgency with which it must be addressed, state-sanctioned violence against people of color and Black and brown bodies, have all been more fully revealed. 

And, by the way, bless your bodies. Bless disabled bodies, trans bodies, bless all bodies. In the words of Adrienne Marie Brown: “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”

So, let us pull back the veil. Let us consider the spaces in which have opened up new visions of connection, understanding and liberation. For this past year you have shifted, pivoted, adapted, in ways that many of us could have never imagined. You will resist an easy return to the familiar; you will envision and build a new normal we so desperately need to sustain this fragile, but precious, earth.

Amidst your majors and your clubs and your internships and all the amazing things you have done here at Smith—this, too, is your learning and your legacy.

So as you listen to our speakers, glean inspiration from our honorees. I invite you to notice how they create space, reveal the gaps wherein truth elides alternative reality, as Smith has always done for you and you will do for us in years to come. Find the spaces within you where the real meaning lives, and let's settle in together between the notes. We'll hear the true music there.

Let us begin.