Having enjoyed a glorious and outrageous stretch of time at Cambridge, his exploits during the time that he was here, have propelled him to national fame, special treatment, and a significant number of followers on Facebook. I am, of course, referring to Mr Asbo – the elegant, graceful, and psychotic swan from the River Cam, who has attacked rowers, capsized canoes, and terrorised tourists. – In a covert operation, Mr Asbo was recently relocated to a secret location at a safe distance from the Cambridge he once terrorised. Having now gone down from Cambridge – there is widespread concern that – when his clipped wings have recovered - he may reappear in a couple of years’ time.
Anyway, having had a couple years at a safe distance from Cambridge, we are pleased to welcome back our own graduates.
Whatever else this day signifies, it is at least, both a recognition and a celebration of all the hard work you have done since your own exploits at Cambridge! Having waded through some of the grittiness of life outside the red bricks of this establishment, people no doubt, have discovered that there are worse things in life than being bumped only 20 seconds after the canon sounds, being turfed out of your bed after a 5am fire alarm or being seen in your pyjamas - or lack of pyjamas – as a result.
There may even be greater evils in the world, than being late for a supervision, being caught in the midst of an alcohol-fuelled attempt to climb over a railing, or selling your soul at a Christian Union event simply because they offered free food. We return to Cambridge, because those who have graduated from here are – and always will be – ambassadors, in a sense, representatives of what it means to be educated in this place. It is rightly something to celebrate, and a source of legitimate pride.
Mr Asbo’s has a following however, of those who oppose the privilege of Cambridge, and threaten to sabotage this term’s bumps racing with a Boat-race style protest against the pride of this place. And the whole notion of pride is one that seems to be condemned in the readings we heard from Scripture. In fact, pride seems to be the cardinal sin that simmers below the pages of Old and New Testament.
But pride has nothing to do with the sense of satisfaction that comes as the fruit of hard work that you have invested in something. In that sense, working to get into Cambridge, and working hard while you are here, and seeking to use your learning well – all are reasons for legitimate pride.
In scripture however Pride, is that which disables genuinely encountering others, other ideas, other people, other ways of being. Pride refers really, to commitments we have Already made. The ‘already’ that prevents from engaging with anything that challenges what we Already know. This is as true in Nietzsche as it is in Scripture – that to be human is to be capable of engaging fully, openly with whatever it is we encounter in the world, in other people, in ourselves. ‘Pride’ in scripture, is the whatever it is that prevents us from being properly open.
Humility, on the other hand, is not about being some kind of doormat. Nor is it to do with some false modesty that leads people to pretend they care nothing about their own achievements. Humility, rather, is the capacity to have your mind changed. It is the cardinal virtue of Scripture. But to be genuinely humble, to be genuinely open, to have the genuine capacity to grow as you encounter more of the world – requires a certain amount of confidence, and a degree of the legitimate kind of pride.
That, we would hope, is what the Cambridge MA signifies: that the confidence that many people learn here, academically, socially, personally – is a confidence, a pride that enables us to be genuinely open and to engage with the world around us in ways that are fruitful and life-affirming.
Regardless of whether our time here was as colourful as Mr Asbo’s – today is a celebration, and a commitment to embody in the world at large, the openness, the confidence, the readiness to engage with otherness that Cambridge as a whole, and that Robinson in particular seeks to encourage.