“What’s the deal with the inauguration of our new college President?” I was asked in a discussion the other day with a friend and colleague. I explained that the hope behind the inauguration was to get the college off to a new and clean start with a new president. “Will it work?” came the reply.
That is a good question. Will the pomp and circumstance change things? Teaching religion in the college, I often have a chance to talk about ritual. Often we use rituals to give a voice to deep hopes that the ritual helps to seal with solemnity. My friend Tsering Phuntsok talks to me a lot about the power of intention. A ritual will work, but only people are willing to invest intention in it. A priest comes in to marry two people armed only with a few pages of script and two rings. Somehow when the script is read, there is a change and people who were single are now married. We call it performative language—a language that enacts itself in words; does that work? Yes, sometimes.
So my reply to my colleague is that it just might work, but only if we believe in the power of our intention to start anew, only if we “inaugurate” ourselves into a new way of being and dedicate ourselves to the intention to start afresh. So I guess, what I am asking is that my colleagues believe in the symbolic, ritual significance of the robes that we will don. They are the same robes that we don when we grant our students with their degrees—the same investiture of meaning that we dramatize at graduation can also be deployed in the inauguration of a new leader as we look toward the future of our school. I think of it as a ritual of hope.