In the citation for the degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters, Hood recognized Holmes as a leading American religion historian and lauded him for his “lifelong contributions and commitment to the life of the mind.”
He also served as commencement speaker for the undergraduate exercises. Hood – a small, private liberal arts college located in Frederick, Md. – conferred 302 undergraduate degrees. Holmes, who also served this year as William & Mary’s baccalaureate speaker, said this was just his second commencement address. He said it is an experience he rather enjoys.
“What I like about speaking at commencements, and like very much, is the atmosphere of graduation at a small liberal-arts college -- the festive spirit, the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts and siblings all present, the knowledge that some of these graduating seniors represent the first member of their family to attend college,” Holmes said.
In his address Holmes encouraged graduates to pursue what they love.
“Do what is in your heart. Do what makes you lose track of time. Do what you can work so hard at that other people think you are overworking. Be ornery towards yourselves and towards the inevitable vicissitudes of life.”
He urged the graduates not to worry about or put pressure on themselves if they weren’t already sure what profession they wanted to pursue.
“This morning I want to report that the evidence indicates that most of us fail to know who we are and hence what we want to do with our lives until we are at least twenty-five. And far more often that realization comes about when we are nearer thirty years of age,” he said.
Holmes also encouraged them not to be afraid of failure.
“We will all fail in life – in applications, in jobs, in health, in love. But there are far worse things in life than giving something our best shot, and failing, " he said. "And never, never forget that the strongest people in life are people who have suffered and lost and been down – really down – and who have come back up again.”
Evoking the words of John Wesley, Holmes charged the graduates to:
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
at all the times you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.'"
Holmes has taught at the College for more than 45 years. His dedication to teaching has been recognized by the Society of the Alumni Faculty Service Award, the Outstanding Faculty Award of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Thomas Ashley Graves Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching and William & Mary’s Thomas Jefferson Award.
During his career he has contributed to dozens of volumes and publications and authored several acclaimed books, including “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.” He is currently working on his fifth book, which addresses the religious beliefs of America’s post-World War II presidents.