The words below are a transcript of my address to the Grace Christian Academy (Knoxville, Tennessee) class of 2018 last month.
Good afternoon, parents, faculty, staff, guests, and, of course, graduates…thank you for the privilege of sharing a few words with you today. We have some important paperwork to hand to you graduates in a few moments, so if it’s okay, I’m going to dive right in.
To the Graduating Class of 2018: Well, the day has arrived. It’s probably more than a little surreal to be sitting there. Cap and gown on. About to receive your diplomas. I mean, take a moment. Look around. Check out all the people here. I’ll wait as you soak it in.
For the past two years, I’ve had a front row seat to your daily interactions with teachers, coaches, counselors, and each other. I’ve witnessed those days you entered the Upper School building in semi-zombie state and when I asked, “How are you today?” you muttered something about how tired you were. Or, maybe, just offered a glance expressing your exhaustion.
I have wonderful memories of the unique way your class established its identity. From the way you acted, danced, and sang. To the way you tackled, defended, and scored. It was in the way you looked out for each other. The way you befriended those new members of the class who joined somewhere along the way. It was in your laughter. It was in your tears. And in the pictures you snapped, the art you created, and the beautiful music that begged to be heard.
It extended to the academic challenges you encountered. The thoughtful way you approached me and said: I have an idea! It was, at times, loud. At times ornery, but never, I repeat never boring.
What a group you are! You love one another. A lot.
Some of you will walk away today from this group you’ve spent countless days and hours with, for, perhaps, the last time. Others, maybe many, have created friendships that will be lifelong. I graduated high school in 1997 and the closest relationships I have outside of my family (you know, the kind of people you regularly text and maintain one ongoing conversation that never really starts or stops)….the people I have those relationships with are those I went to high school with. It’s special.
You may have seasons where you drift. But I encourage you to hold dear to these relationships. Those who know you at your very best….and your very worst….and love you just the same.
I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve learned since I graduated high school. Life lessons not learned but for time, experience, and, yes, hardship.
To begin – you don’t know what you don’t know. Embrace this, graduates. Earlier this month, I visited my alma mater, Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia. As I walked the campus, memories flooded my mind. I was reminded how much I had to learn when I arrived. I was an 18-year-old over 700 miles from home who knew very few people there. When I didn’t know something I thought I was supposed to…..I pretended that I did. I was reluctant to ask questions. Often unwilling to admit what I’d not yet learned.
There is a word for this, graduates: PRIDE. And pride serves no one. Neither the individual who is proud, nor those in the midst of its wake.
Good learners ask questions. And they listen. Really listen. This is how growth happens. When we listen, it conveys a certain humility. And humility never goes out of style. In my opinion, it’s among the most desirable traits one can possess.
Wherever your next steps lead, I encourage you to relinquish the pretense of what you think you’re supposed to know. Open your mind. Lean in to that which is uncomfortable. Listen and you will learn. Oh, will you learn.
My father was a pastor. I lost him much sooner than I would have liked, but his memory lives on and the lessons he taught still impact me in so many ways.
One lesson I learned from my father came from a sermon he gave years ago. And that is this: God’s love and human suffering are not incompatible.
Graduates, God is not good only when circumstances are good. God is good even when things aren’t going our way. Even when tragedy strikes. Even when we don’t understand. Even when our bank account balance is meager at best. God is ALWAYS good.
As you complete your teenage years and move into your twenties, you will find moments that you wish could be fixed in time. Mountaintop experiences. When like……becomes love. When you beat the buzzer. When you land your dream job.
You will also endure trials and heartbreak. This is not an IF proposition, but a WHEN proposition. A certain fact of life.
Your trials will rarely make sense. You may wrestle with God’s will. These natural, human emotions are understandable. What I have found is that the hard times make us better. I’m not sure if the cliche what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger is true.
But I do know we serve a sovereign God who goes before us. He has our best interests in mind. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
Be kind, graduates. For kindness is a virtue. I want to pause for a moment on this point. For there is a difference between nice and kind. Nice is convenient; whereas kindness comes through even when inconvenient.
Nice is opening the door for someone, leaving an extra dollar more than necessary for the waiter’s tip, greeting a stranger with polite, friendly conversation. Nice is good.
But kind goes further. Kind is the sacrificial act that seeks no credit. It’s when you don’t have time to help, but you make time anyway. Kind accepts blame, repositions the spotlight, and helps the person beaten in the ditch rather than crossing to the other side of road. Kind makes a difference because kind is a reflection of Jesus.
The Bible commands that we treat others the way we want to be treated. And here’s the really important part: that means whether they treat us the way we want to be treated or not. Jesus died, nailed to a cross for the very people who spit in His face. He died for you. And for me. If he paid the ultimate price for those who treated Him poorly, what excuse do I have to treat others poorly?
And that goes for referees, politicians, and customer service representatives, who, often bear the brunt of our less-than-best selves.
This requires that we put ourselves in others’ shoes. That we do our best to see things from their perspective. As you inevitably meet new people in the coming months, I encourage you to really get to know them. Offer the benefit of the doubt. Let your life tell a story (even, perhaps especially in the hard times) that leaves them no choice but to ask: What’s different about you?
Graduates, you have a specific calling on your life. If not careful, we can allow that calling to become elusive, mysterious even. I have a quote in my office by a gentleman named Howard Thurman that reads, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs – ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
God berths in us passions and desires for a reason. Like hints awaiting discovery. Some of you already have a clear idea of what you want to do in life. Others aren’t so sure. For those still searching, think about what you instinctively care about, and what you’re good at. The intersection of those two pathways can reveal a great deal about God’s calling on your life.
God has uniquely equipped us to fulfill a purpose that will bring Him glory. I believe every single one of you has the capacity for excellence in some endeavor. There is no greater fulfillment, no higher purpose than honing the gifts God has given you, day-by-day, in pursuit of Him.
You know that saying, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life?” It’s a myth. Work is a gift, friends. I love what I do. But I go home, many days, depleted. Exhausted. Completely spent. You guys are really hard work….
If you buy-in to the notion that a job or career is to feel like a vacation or some form of recreation, and then learn it’s not, you may miss out on the very thing God created you to do…….Don’t let that happen.
So, class of 2018, may you know Christ’s love for you in a deep, and meaningful way. May you depart GCA and impact our world for the better by extending Christ’s love to those placed in your way. And may you ultimately experience a life worthy of those aspirational words: well done, good and faithful servant.
Growing up, one of my son, Parker’s, favorite books has been Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. As I close, allow me to impart its immortal final words…..
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!
Congratulations, Class of 2018. The honor has been distinctly mine.