Pepperdine Caruso Law School Baccalaureate Service (May 16, 2019)
Jim Gash (President, Pepperdine University), How We Belong:
The year 2020 was unlike anything the world has ever seen. Our nation has been gripped by a once-in-a-century pandemic. The economic fallout has hurt millions of families and businesses. We have witnessed America's renewed commitment to deliver fully on its highest ideals and the promise that all people are created equal, which has shined a spotlight on racial justice and reconciliation. After a year of so much uncertainty and distance and pain, many have been left frequently wondering how we come together. Where, in the midst of this uncharted journey forward, do we still find togetherness and a genuine sense of belonging?
As a community of believers, our answer is in God's love for us and our love for each other. When I began my presidency, I shared that bringing together our entire Waves community of students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends would be among my highest priorities for Pepperdine. God designed people to thrive in community, and he commands us to love one another deeply. In John 13:34–35, Jesus said, "So now I am giving you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
This powerful testament of divine love is at the root of belonging and togetherness, but we must also have the courage to build a unified community that celebrates and uplifts the distinctiveness of each individual. Deepening relationships with those who are different from us—and with whom we may even disagree—matters. An intentional focus on each of these efforts is how we will be better disciples of the Lord and the only way to create a lasting community of belonging at the University and around the world.
When we look back at 2020, my hope is that the year will be remembered as a turning point and a time when every Wave stood tall to meet the moment. May we continue to love through both difficulty and difference. May we amplify the voices of those who have not felt heard. May we welcome with open arms those who have felt cast out. And in these actions, may we honor and celebrate the beauty of a humanity perfectly designed by our faithful and loving God.
How We Belong:
If you are fortunate enough, you can call more than one place home. Many of us make meaning in our families near and far. We find our true selves in new and lifelong friendships. Our purpose is defined in our places of worship. And our rootedness is revealed in the ways in which we serve our communities. If you are fortunate enough, your pursuit of home—where you feel like you truly belong—will be effortless, and the rooms in which you feel accepted and loved will be warm.
Like the multifaceted stained glass windows that decorate the world's hallowed cathedrals, Pepperdine paints a dazzling picture of distinct individuals finding their home among an elaborate network of diverse hues and patterns. While brilliant on their own, each piece reflects a dynamic energy as it is illuminated by the divine light that shines through all of them. With the fire they possess within, this precious collective also radiates the light that the world needs and brightens our differences and unique contributions to our community. Eternally fused, each shard is planted firmly where it is set and fortified by the countless pieces surrounding it.
This illustration is a powerful picture of belonging. This is our starting point: each of us has been created beautifully in the image of God to fit together and be stronger than we are apart. Why is this truth so important? Because this is our true and common heritage, one that is preeminent and transcends above all of our differences. This is our great unifying principle. We were created as one people—as one window with many different parts. And the light of our connectedness reflects the beauty and majesty of God.
Therefore, as we contemplate the ways in which we better cultivate belonging at Pepperdine, we must look beyond where we feel inherently connected, valued, and loved and examine those places whose warmth can be intensified. This exploration provides us with an opportunity and an invitation to discern together—in the academy, in community, in places of faith, and through acts of service—how we can strengthen our connections to one another and form lasting bonds to ensure that not a single part of our wonderfully made masterpiece feels broken, burdened, or left behind.
Chalak Richards (JD '12) was named the Caruso School of Law's first-ever assistant dean of student life, diversity, and belonging. Established in early 2020, the office of the assistant dean of student life, diversity, and belonging has three overarching goals: to create a community where all are welcomed and recognize they belong, to care for the well-being of each individual student, and to oversee the full student life experience. In her new role, Richards will develop programs to create a community that values and celebrates diversity and work on strategic initiatives and policies that strengthen belonging among students, faculty, and staff.