Joan Koanner: 'The Hero's Journey Is Like the Journey of Life Itself. It's a Mystery and a Challenge'

BY: Joan Konner

 
From the commencement address given by Joan Konner, former Dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, at Sarah Lawrence

Ancient cultures have rituals based on myth to mark life's important changes from one season to another-from childhood to adulthood, from ordinary reality to spiritual awareness. The ceremony marks the change, and the ability, to evolve beyond self-interest to share the burden of the larger society. The transformation requires some acceptance and identification with something larger than yourself-the clan, the tribe, the community. Without such passages, there is no civilization.

We see the remnants of such rituals today in the ceremonies that occur when a lawyer becomes a judge, an immigrant becomes a citizen, or when a citizen puts on a uniform and becomes a soldier. Without the uniform and the ritual of commitment to the larger whole, a soldier is simply a murderer, or a vigilante in a private militia, an example that is all too real for us today.

Graduation retains some of the features of these more ancient rites: the gathering of elders (your families, the alumni) and priests (your teachers) to welcome you back from your books and experiences, and to celebrate the ceremonies and the feasts.

[Joseph] Campbell's seminal work "The Hero's Journey"...is one of the most compelling works in our culture, in movies, books, and religions. The story endures because it entertains and it inspires us. I think of it today as you begin your journey into the larger world. The hero usually emerges from humble beginnings, but is called to a path of trials and suffering. He survives a series of ordeals and returns to the community carrying a gift, a message from which everyone in the culture can learn. In fact, the hero's journey is like the journey of life itself. It's a mystery and a challenge, and in the process, you find something of value in the experience and about yourself....

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