Last night, GCS graduated 63 seniors in the Class of 2020. We call this ceremony “commencement,” because it is the beginning of their new life, equipped with everything we’ve given them. This address always serves as my last blog of the school year, as I take my usual summer hiatus from blogging to refresh and recharge for next year. I pray that God used one or two things from this blog to bear fruit in your life, as He does in mine. I pray God will bless and keep you this summer.
For years, most of you, 14 years, you have heard lessons and talks and speeches and conversations, and now, I am the last voice you’ll hear as a student of Grace Community School as I give you your charge. And, while it is a privilege to do this for all the graduating classes at Grace, it is a particular privilege to do so for you. Because you are my daughter’s classmates, we have done life together, and I have had the honor of walking alongside you as you became young men and women. I visited some of you in the hospital on the day you were born; I attended many of your two-year-old, three-year-old and four-year-old birthdays at exotic places like Piddlin’ Pottery, Buckaroody’s, and Caldwell Zoo. I watched your K5 graduation, I gave the address at your 5th grade graduation, I traveled down the Buffalo River with you, watched you roll around on the ground with the basketball and desperately try to serve it over the net in 7th grade, and I cheered you on when you ran down the court, the field, and the track in high school. I marveled at your artistic ability, your singing voice, your writing ability.
I prayed for you and comforted you as you lost uncles, grandparents, moms, and dads. I have asked the Lord to revive you, heal you, restore you, and comfort you, to give you visions and callings of a hope and a future, sometimes through tears. I love you, and I have done so imperfectly and I have made mistakes, and I am deeply sorry for those, but I have always loved you, as one who knows you in all of your good and most of your ugliness and still loves you. You know that, don’t you? I’m grateful to your moms and dads for letting me do life alongside them as we all raised you together, and I’m thankful that we raised you all together in the fellowship of laughter, tears, and prayer.
And, so, as I remind you of a few things as you leave here, take them as the words of a father- one who has watched you and is proud of you and who wants most dearly to see you thrive and grow and flourish.
1. You were born into and for adversity, and that’s a good thing. Your childhood was bookended by cataclysmic events that left us all in fear and uncertainty. You were born in the wake of 9/11, when what it meant to feel safe and secure, and what it cost to achieve security, changed forever. You are graduating high school, completing your childhood and being launched into the world, in the middle of a global pandemic, spending the end of you senior year in your homes, separated from your friends, the specter of disease and uncertainty lurking outside. Almost exactly in the middle of that childhood, you survived the Great Recession, again a time of fear and great economic uncertainty. You can look at that and see yourself as unfortunate, as having strikes against you. But, you’re not unfortunate; you are blessed. Because the generations that accomplish little are born into comfort and ease. The great generations, those who build worlds and civilizations and cultures, are born into hard times, like the Depression, and World Wars, and Spanish Flu. It’s in those times that true character and determination and resolve are born.
We’re created for adversity, built to meet challenges and to rise above them. But, as Oswald Chambers said, “The things that happen to us either make us evil or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy.”
You have everything you need to achieve the intimacy to make you great. You have been given tremendous gifts. You have been well-prepared. Your parents have invested deeply in you by sending you here. You have been loved well, by a group of faculty and coaches and staff who have shown you how to love, and what deep intimacy with Christ looks like. You have been given the opportunity to develop a well-trained mind, and a vibrant faith. Some of you have taken advantage of it, and for some of you, it’s stacked like kindling at your feet, just waiting for the Holy Spirit to ignite it, to set it, and your heart, ablaze for Him.
Please, as one who loves you, let Him do that. Press into Him, let Him light that fire within you. Let it burn brightly, and don’t let this time, this season that you’ve been born and raised into go to waste.
2. Life is a journey AND a destination. Chances are, COVID has made you feel trapped and just wanting to get out of here, just leave. Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with saying “life is a journey, not a destination”. The idea of life and leaving is a metaphor. You will always be leaving- leaving home, leaving college to start your new life, leaving your mother and father to cling to another, leaving the “freedom” of no longer being a parent, leaving a town or a job or a people behind to move into the next phase of life, leaving ones you love as they go on before you, leaving your own good health behind, leaving this life- only to be welcomed home. Remember that you’re a refugee, destined for the road, for its joys, yes, but also for its heartaches and tears, as well, all a part of the journey. But don’t miss the fact that you were created for home. Many people far smarter than we have missed that, tried to convince themselves that life was just a journey and that the road was the thing, always looking forward to the next time they’d be leaving. And, they missed the whole point. When you see there is a home, an endpoint, a place you belong and you’ll be welcomed, everything else, joy and pain, good and bad, leaving and coming along the way, all mold and shape and form who you are, but they never define you, nor are they ultimate in themselves: they never give you value and worth and security and identity. Only home does that. And, you’ve learned that home was never a place at all, but a person. The person of your loving Father, and the purpose to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Enjoy the journey, but please make sure you make it home.
3. Find your people. The most important thing you must do when you are out on your own, on the journey, next to pressing into your Lord, is to find your people. And, for some of you, that doesn’t mean finding the people you are now. It means finding the people you want to be, and surrounding yourself with them. At college and beyond, life is full of all types of people. You all have the ability to be influencers, but some of you tend more towards following and some tend more towards leading. Know yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses, and be humbly honest with yourself about those. Then, find people who help you be who God has called you to be, and who you can help be the same. Have many friends in college; the goal is certainly to make friends who don’t know Jesus, and to draw them to Him by your words and by how you live. But, build your base first. Life is not a solo sport, and you cannot survive on your own. Find your people.
4. Time is not on your side. If there’s anything that a generation of kids whose childhood is bookended by 9/11 and COVID-19 ought to know is that time is not your friend. The time to do all these things I’ve spoken with you about is not tomorrow. I’ve buried enough of my former students to know that life is precious and short, no matter how many years you have, or how many you think you have.
You are privileged, Class of 2020, my beloved children. You have been born into darkness, and I charge you to be children of light; you have been brought through grief and mourning so you can truly learn to rejoice and sacrifice and love- I charge you to give of yourself and to love well, to rise above your circumstances in order to bring joy and hope out of disappointment and fear. In short, to be the Body of Christ. Never forget that you are your Father’s children, and we love you.
Jay Ferguson, PhD, Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org