Script for the commencement address at New Covenant School,
May 22, 2015
Friends, parents, students, and—most importantly—NCS Class of 2015:
It is with deep gratitude that I take the podium tonight to celebrate your completion of a very long race. I am honored that you asked me to speak at your commencement, and as a return favor, I promise to keep my thoughts short and to the point. It’s no light calling to stand in front of talented, bright young people and say anything that might be considered ‘wisdom.’ Even a fool, when he keeps his peace, is considered wise—so Solomon tells us—so I will keep my words few.
To return to the school where I spent a decade of my life teaching is an emotional experience this evening. I taught many of you as far back as that awkward junior high phase, when all of your friendships were messy and the boys were still playing with plastic Army men while the girls, having grown a foot taller and discovered “real men,” whispered in the corner about all the hott guys in the movies.
Therefore, we share some of the same fond memories from the years when I taught you Shakespeare and Dante and Greek mythology, or dragged you kicking and screaming into a new Latin conjugation, or taught you how to survive “Honey If You Love Me Smile” without cracking up in drama class.
Several of you were in the 7th grade class who performed that Sherlock Holmes play that was just a bit outside your reach for performance—but I was so proud of you for trying.
You dressed up as cave men for Barbarian Day that year too and, if I remember correctly, recorded an adorable video of Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies,” rewritten as “All You Cave Ladies.” I’m pretty sure I’ve still got that video footage tucked away on YouTube, for bribery. Just in case.
And although I wasn’t here to take you all the way to the end of your high school journey, I can see that you’ve grown into a fine group of young adults, capable of tackling the challenges you will soon face in “the real world.” I imagine it feels like you’ve learned all the things, taken all the tests, survived all the projects, and swum through all the drama. Drama in the interpersonal sense, not the cooler “on stage” sense, though you’ve done that too.
Now you’re sitting here in these seats at NCS for the last time, on the cusp of the biggest transition you’ve ever faced—to this point at least.
What I want you to remember, above everything else you will hear this graduation season about your accomplishments and your future and your potential, is this: Your life is not for you.
Did you hear me?
Your life is not your own.
This simple idea flies in the face of everything the world is telling you. Around every corner you will hear people telling you to follow your passions (a good idea, really) and to pursue your dreams (sure) and to make sure you select a major in college that will make you a lot of money (a riskier gamble, in my opinion).
I’m here to tell you what is a much less popular idea, but very true. Your life decisions affect more than just you. They affect everyone around you. And that’s important. If you’re going to accomplish anything in this life, you’ve got to recognize that you cannot do it alone. And you cannot do it for yourself alone.
The Apostle John records Jesus’ words: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24). And in case we missed the point, Matthew tells us, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
You’re not living your life for you. You’re not picking a career just for your benefit, though your life’s work will bring rich benefits to your life and your family and your community. You aren’t on this planet to make yourself happy, though a life lived in the Grace of God and for the Kingdom of God will most likely be a life of Joy, for God is a Father who loves His children.
You’re here to love.
Jesus, when asked to name the “greatest commandment” that we all should ‘focus on,’ replied with an answer that you know by heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the Law and Prophets.”
You weren’t put here to love yourself. You were put here to love God as hard as you can with everything you have all the time, and to love other people.
It’s easy to make this mandate complicated than it is. We can get all caught up in arguing over who we’re supposed to love and whether we think they “deserve it.” (Not that any of us deserve the Grace that God pours out on us every single day; He sacrificed Himself to absolve our sin and loves us fully and completely when we were absolutely unlovable.)
We can argue over “who is my neighbor,” when really the answer is simply to love the person in front of you, the people around you, the people in your way, the people you’d rather not have to deal with.
If you invest your life in other people, if you focus your career goals not on money or fame or power but on bringing the most good to the people you’re supposed to love, then you will find what you really want out of life: fulfillment. Meaning. Joy.
If you came to NCS when Coart and I taught here alongside Jack Knipe and Joey Thames and Debbie Smith and so many others, you might remember some of the “catch phrases” that peppered our conversations in class and at recess and as we sat around the lunch tables.
Remember this? The “good kid” isn’t the one who stays out of trouble. The good kid is the one who does good.
Goodness—righteousness—in the biblical sense is active. It’s not passive. It’s not wimpy. It’s not sitting back and allowing other people to assume all the risks or finding a way to get what you want without getting caught. It’s impossible to separate being good from doing good.
Your highest calling, dear ones, is not to “achieve greatness.” It is to walk the path that your Savior already walked, the path of the Cross, the path of sacrifice and hard work and sometimes tears in pursuit of loving God and loving others.
It is your choice. But the call—the vocation—I set before you today is the call to live a life centered on the love of God in your life poured out into the lives of others. It’s ok if you don’t know what that means. It’s ok if you aren’t settled yet on who God is or how He fits into your life. If there’s one thing God is very good at, it’s making Himself known to you at exactly the right time. He will find you.
Pursue a life calling that matches your talents (what you’re good at) with a deep and difficult problem in the world that you’d like to help solve.
Start now. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten your college degree or “know enough” or have earned enough money to be “stable” or figured out what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’m 20 years older than you and I’m still “figuring out what I’m supposed to do with my life.” But I do know that whatever my job title may be, whatever your job title may be (and remember, your job might not have even been invented yet), our mutual calling is to Love God and Love Others.
Because the incredible thing about Love is, the more you pour out, the more you have to give.
God bless you as you walk your journey. I cannot wait to see where you go and what you do in the power of the God who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6). Thank you.