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Simple gifts

scholarship_brunchFrom a speech delivered by Peter Miller ’10 at the 2010 scholarship and donor brunch.

It is truly a gift to honor student success, engaged scholarship, and active citizenship knowing that each of these simple components is intertwined in my own story. This is a story about how simple gifts transform a community into a simple reality.

For most of us, though, turning someone’s simple gift into a simple reality is not an easy process. Simple gifts are not easy gifts, but they are simple. Let me explain.

When I was a child, I used to love to listen to my mom play the dulcimer. She would play this old Shaker hymn while my brother and I would run around in the yard. Whenever I hear it, it still shakes me up and makes me want to dance and appreciate how precious life is. The hymn is called “Simple Gifts.”

‘Tis a gift to be simple, ’tis a gift to be free,

‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in a place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shall not be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning and turning we come round right.

As I recall my mom singing this song and my brother and I turning and turning until we were dizzy, I have come to value the message in these simple words.

We celebrate the success of students because simple gifts are freeing, liberating, and life changing. Getting into college is a big deal and it changes you. As students are groomed in success, simple gifts allow us the freedom to engage fully in what we are learning and develop into the leaders we ought to be, in a college that is just and right. With an Auggie-assemblage of strong leaders, we continue to build a neighborhood and a city of love and delight. And we, too, have an opportunity to invest in true simplicity where all people bow and bend and are never ashamed.

Simple gifts spark the cycle toward a simple reality. I have seen the spark of a simple gift in the eyes of first-year students as they acknowledge that Augsburg offers them more financial aid than any other school. And I have seen this simple reality come to life when a former scraping, struggling business major takes a few philosophy and religion classes and gets all 4.0’s. I have watched it in a group of inter-faith friends who never stand still long enough to watch the paint dry, whether they are doing service projects at a mosque down the street, a local church, or a nearby women’s center.

That spark, that simple gift that I saw as an orientation leader, ignites a question—how do I become a part of this simple reality?

But that was the spark in my eye too, in the trust that the somehow my family and the Augsburg community would help me afford a meaningful education and turn my gifts and theirs into something simple and beautiful. Trying to figure out what a simple reality entails has meant a number of difficult turns, like turning left around Murphy Park again and again trying to find a parking spot. I had to turn from procrastination to participation in simple things like inter-faith dialog, global carbon emission regulations, and ending poverty in Minnesota by 2020.

Easy right? No, I didn’t say it was easy. I said it was simple. It is painting with a broad brush, or like we did at the mosque, with rollers and a taste for new colors. This is a simple reality.

But it all starts with the simple gifts that are present in this room. Ultimately, I believe the simplest gift is who we are and how we spend our time—the time to sing a song in the springtime, study hard, write a thank-you note, share a story, paint, or spare some change.

I want to thank you all for your simple gifts and the countless hours you have given to Augsburg, for bowing and bending to the needs of this community and providing the spark for so many to be a part of this story. Together, we are a simple reality.


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