Okay, I’ll admit it: I am a huge fan of the Transformers. For those of us whose childhood was anchored squarely within the years that begin with 198x, you will remember the names Optimus Prime and Megatron. For those who are less familiar, the Transformers are 30-foot-tall autonomous robotic organisms (their words, not mine) who transform from vehicle or plane mode to a form or mode that looks like a traditional robot: an upright standing machine. Those two aforementioned foes are the respective leaders of the two types of transformers. Optimus is the leader of the Autobots (the good guys), while Megatron is the leader of the Decepticons (the bad guys).
What is perhaps most fascinating about the Transformers is that they are each unique, like giant people in robot form. Optimus, for example, is perpetually stoic, unflappable and selfless — the leader of leaders. Bumblebee, an autobot, is quirky and charming; Megatron is vile, ruthless, and cunning. From the bad ones to the good ones, each of them is different; it is this uniqueness, this personability that makes them so popular, so memorable.
But I think the allure of the Transformers goes beyond the ancient battle lines of good versus evil. I say this because I think that Transformers appeal to us because of what they are: solid, nearly invulnerable, stoic, adaptable, heroic, and other things. Yet somehow, they are almost human too: each with their own personality, perfectly finite and vulnerable too. They are built with a spark within them that is akin to our life force. If this spark is removed from their spark chamber, their days are no more. So there you have it: the perfectly human robot that is indelibly vulnerable and yet, through its transformation, wonderfully powerful.
Beyond the flashing of metal, I think something existential surrounds the core of our fascination with these bot-machines. Perhaps it is their durable exterior that strikes at the envy we all feel when we are glanced by the reminders, nuisances that they are, of our fragile human lives. Or perhaps it is more simply that it speaks to our hearts when we hear of transformation. Those stories, the ones that makes us teary when we read them: the story of the drug addict who overcame their addiction to become a successful lawyer; the survivor of sexual abuse who overcome their past to become an accomplished engineer; the single mom who left an abusive partner to put herself through school and become a well-respected pediatrician. Each of them is amongst the cherished collection of human transformers who have overcome their life’s own circumstances to rise above.
No matter how small or how great your struggles, each of us are transformers. We put forth our exo-shell, face the world, and do battle with forces that some days seem greater than we are. Some days we win, other days we do not — it is that simple. But whether we win or not, well, that is not so critical as the understanding that no battle is waged alone (nor is any victory achieved alone). Instead, we stand alongside each other, beautiful and tragic, strong and yet broken, holding hands as we strain our muddied hands to reach for the glorious victory that may just be edging up along the horizon.
It is into this place of hope that I (and many others on this campus) wish to enter with you as every one of us goes about our humble little lives as agents of hopeful transformations, both you and I. Our days on earth will no doubt be pressed with the sting of discomfort; perhaps addiction, failure or folly will meet you on your path. Our hope is that in the days of trial and tribulation, your spark will be drawn by the light of transformation, the light that draws each of us to hoping (even when the circumstances tell us otherwise). I believe in hope; I believe in transformation. I hope you do too.