Into the future

Published 5:21 am Thursday, May 12, 2016

Congratulations to this year’s graduates. Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College, and Southside Virginia Community College are hosting ceremonies this month to celebrate the successes of students who have earned postsecondary degrees, honors and other credentials. Area high schools will mark the achievements of their own graduates by conferring diplomas, and various academies of dance, music, and martial arts will mark the end of a year’s accomplishments with performances, competitions and advancements.

The observances of these events will employ various symbols. Some participants will wear traditional regalia. They may receive hoods or toss special hats into the air. They may move tassels to signify a change in their academic status. Some will receive flowers, emblems or applause. Some will laugh. Some will cry. But all will be changed as one stage of life and learning yields to another.

In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis noted, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

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The rites of formal education are replete with strategically planned hatchings, but life also serves up abundant opportunities for transformation to individual people, to communities and to nations.

During a recent walk through Farmville’s downtown area, I was struck by how much had changed since I first moved to the community. It’s been seven years. To me, it seems as if those years passed in a blink, but apparently it was an eventful blink. Stores and eateries have come and gone. Façades have been updated. Display windows have been dressed and redressed. The downtown plaza area at the entrance to High Bridge Trail State Park didn’t used to exist, but now it is a flowering showcase.

Over a longer period of time, the community’s spirit and attitude have apparently also changed and blossomed. Historically, Farmville endured a period of time marked by racial tension and discrimination. Many of the people I meet today are embarrassed by the ignorance of elder days. They’ve learned from history and grown beyond its limitations. They have graduated into an enlarged understanding of the human family and how each individual is interwoven into the fabric of society. The community, once divided over racial issues, moves on and embraces cooperation and respect.

Sometimes change comes quickly. Sometimes changes emerge from longer processes, and important turning points may go unrecognized when they occur. Several weeks ago, I attended a Bible study where we discussed a passage in the Gospel of John that mentioned how Jesus’s disciples did not understand the significance of the events they witnessed until much later (John 12:16). It brought to my mind a program I once attended at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield State Park. That presentation included readings from Civil War era diaries. Entries had been recorded by people who observed battles but didn’t understand what they had seen.

And I wondered: What turning points are occurring right now? What events that currently seem ordinary will unleash extraordinary consequences? Who among us will lead us to achievements we can’t yet imagine?

Perhaps a teacher is setting a future scientist on the path to discovery. Perhaps a student volunteer is developing a passion for social justice that will transform the next generation. Perhaps an older person is sharing wisdom that will ultimately produce an abundant harvest among those in whom it takes root.

I’ve been watching signs around town as the past winter changed to spring and as spring transitions into summer. People who once huddled indoors have taken to their yards. Seeds have been planted. Gardens are being nurtured. Students, formerly cocooned in scarves and jackets, are now attired in shorts and sandals. Some are ready to fly away for the summer. Others will fly off to uncharted destinations.

So to all the classes of 2016 — and to everyone else with potential yet to be realized — I wish you a fruitful journey into the future.

KAREN BELLENIR has lived in Farmville since 2009 and blogs for Pier Perspectives ( She maintains an archive of columns at and is editorial director for Wordwright LLC providing services to authors, publishers and print and electronic publications ( Her email address is © 2016 Wordwright, LLC