Last Sunday, The Stony Brook School honored the class of 2020 with a parade up Chapman Parkway. Graduates and their families rode in decorated cars while faculty and staff lined the sidewalks, cheering and clapping for each graduate.
More than once, tears threatened to spill down my face while a swirl of emotions ran through me. The bittersweetness of the moment was palpable. Stony Brook celebrates its graduates in a big way. The weekend begins with Prom, followed by Baccalaureate and Class Night. It ends with Commencement on Saturday and a wonderful luncheon afterwards. Seniors look forward to these festivities for as long as they are at the school.
On the one hand, the disappointment of cancelled events hung in the hearts and minds of each person. On the other hand, the joy and appreciation reflected on the graduates’ faces as they saw faculty members and staff they hadn’t seen in person for weeks(!) congratulating them on a job well done, was evident. The event brought some necessary and needed celebration for these students and families who missed out on all the usual festivities.
Several months ago, I promised to repost some of my “best of” pieces from the past ten years of blogging. I wrote this piece in 2016. On this first day in June, it seems like an appropriate time to share it again during this season of graduation and COVID. We’ve certainly been in the wilderness these past several months. Yet, hope remains. It springs up, often when we least expect it.
Whether you know a graduate or not, these words are for you as well.
Thanks for reading,
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19
It’s that time of year again—graduation season. Last weekend, I attended the graduation of some dear former students in Waco, Texas.When I first started teaching them, they were 8 and 9 years old. Now, they are young men and women, embarking on a new season of life. I was honored to celebrate this rite of passage with them.
My own high school graduation was almost 30 years ago. I can’t remember who the speaker was or a single word he or she said. My 17-year-old-self was probably thinking about the graduation parties I would attend or was worried about my hair looking good in spite of the mortar-board hat squishing my hair flat. (I am a product of the 1980s, after all.) Unfortunately, I missed any pearls of wisdom shared during the speaker’s address.
This got me thinking. Even though I can’t remember my commencement speaker’s address, what would I say to today’s graduates?
Here are some thoughts…
Be amazed at how your life unfolds.
When I walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma, the school flashed a picture of my senior portrait on a large screen. If the screen could have portrayed the future, no one would have been more surprised by my life’s course than me. Ohio, Illinois, Vancouver, Texas, New York—these are all the places I have lived since becoming married. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined this for myself. While some moves have been easier than others, my life is richer because of these experiences. Each of these places makes up a part of my story.
Some of you know exactly what career path you want to pursue. Perhaps many of you will follow that course. Others of you have only a vague sense of what you want to do or have no idea at all. That’s okay. Whatever camp you fall into, be open to wonder and discovery. Be willing to change course as you discover what you are passionate about. Don’t buy into the myth that you need to know what you want to be in life by the time you finish college. Life experience and maturity will hone and reveal your God-given gifts and abilities. You may need to try on several careers before you find the perfect fit.
Don’t fear the wilderness.
I don’t know a single person who wants suffering or hardship in life. But there is no avoiding it. I have walked seasons of life where I feared the “what ifs.” In college, I wrestled with stories I read or sermons I heard where the person attributed her deep faith in God to the suffering she had encountered in life. I wanted a deep faith, but I was scared what that would entail. Would I lose the people I loved the most? Would I discover I had cancer? When we encounter hardship, we feel exposed, like a lone sail flapping the wind. Bruised and battered, we cry out for help. For some, this is the impetus to a life of faith in God. For others, this is a time where our roots go deep for the first time. Others turn away and blame God for allowing them to suffer. I’m not suggesting you go out and seek suffering. But don’t fear it or think you can out-maneuver it either. When it comes, cling to God. Look for the streams that will eventually appear in the wasteland.
Seek God daily.
Looking at the created world provides some meaningful parallels to everyday life. My house is surrounded by trees—maples, oaks, and locusts. The locust trees are the worst. They grow tall and skinny and when the hurricane-force winds blow, they topple first. They lack the support structure—the deep roots—that the oaks and maples have. Spending time in God’s word and devoting yourself to prayer gives you the necessary root structure to journey through the ups and downs of life. The more you practice, the deeper your roots.
In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis describes heaven a bit like a journey. For a girl who can barely wrap her head around the word “eternity,” I love this image. He says it gets better and better the “further up and farther in” you go. This image applies to our spiritual lives as well. Cultivate habits of Bible reading and prayer now. Over time, you will be amazed at how a passage you have read many times suddenly reveals a new and unexpected truth. This is part of the “farther in” discovery. And, when the storms of life come, which they will, you will find true, comforting, and hopeful words coming to your mind unbidden.
Congratulations, graduate! Blessings to you.