cuw graduate school commencement

graduation 1{This weekend, I made the trek back to Mequon, Wisc., to serve as commencement speaker at Concordia University Wisconsin. From getting to have dinner and laughs with some faithful LCMS pastors and their families to learning from Dr. Ferry about all the new things CUW has in store to some fun and distinct collegiate memories, it was a delightful weekend and a true joy to be on campus.

Due to popular demand (and by “popular” I mean “a couple people asked for it” and “I need something to post”), here’s a pretty-close-to-what-I-actually-said run-down of the graduate school speech.

Don’t judge me.

Ok, do. But just a little.}


Hope. Love. Gather—in Christ (Hebrews 10:23-25)

Grad school, in a lot of ways, is a kind of arrival. You’re looked up to. You’re respected. You feel like you have a purpose. You get to write big, complex papers with even bigger, more complex titles. You get to rate coffee shops by the availability of outlets for your laptop. You find yourself explaining to children that you’re “in 20th grade.” You are completely, totally broke.

But somewhere in that euphoric haze of pushing yourself academically as far as you can go and eating ramen noodles for the eleventy-two millionth time this year, you have “the moment.” Anyone, I think, who is a grad school student knows “the moment.” It’s that unique time when the world stands still, when everything gets quiet, when you forget where you are, and you wonder, “Why on earth did I think grad school was a good idea?”

Yes, somewhere in the midst of all the coffee, all the papers, all the longing after your friends who are going out to dinner while you’re still in the library buried under a mountain of books, you start to wonder, “Am I crazy?!” “When did caffeine become one of my major food groups?” “Did I really just cite a source in a conversation?” “Who needs this degree anyway?” “And why do I am suddenly proud of the fact that I know the difference between microfilm and microfiche?”

I remember my moment. I was in the masters program at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. I dropped some mail off at the mail room and headed into my first course for the day, listening to my classmates debate the nuances of angolomorphical Christology when I suddenly realized, “I just sent a thank you letter to my grandma . . . with footnotes!”

But lest you sit in your seat today, wondering privately to yourself if all the Starbucks and Power Points were worth it, be mindful that there is great value in graduate learning.

graduation 4Graduate school is hard work. It’s still school. There are still papers. You still get grades. There may even still be the occasional albeit frantic all-nighter. But it’s different. It’s not college.

You’re here today because you chose to be here, because you wanted to learn more, to get ahead, to wrap your head around as much information as you can. You’re here today because education matters to you, because ideas and thoughts matter. You’re here because you believe the topic that you studied has value and worth, that it’s important.

You’re here today because you specifically chose a Christian learning environment, because you wanted to cultivate your abilities—personal, intellectual, professional, spiritual. You’re here today because you want to make a contribution to your field, because you care about the well-being of those around you, because you have done the studying and writing and thinking and learning that qualifies you to sit in that seat and wear that cap and gown.

Some of you started graduate school straight out of college. Some of you left careers and jobs to be here. Some of you are holding down both. Each of those are difficult, hard in their own way. And that hard work, what you’ve been doing for the last weeks and months and years is commendable.

But you’re not done. In reality, you’re just getting started. Now begins the task of looking for jobs, of getting your thesis published, of proving your worth in your field.

But now you have proof, tangible proof in the diploma you’ll hold in your hand in mere . . . months when the school mails it to you . . . that you have something to offer, that you deserve to be here, and that you are ready, equipped, bold enough to face the next challenge.

So don’t let it get to your straight-D college roommate is now a professional hacker making $80,000 a year or that your study carel in the library is better decorated than your apartment or that you now view ibuprofen as a vitamin.

Keep working hard anyway, even if it feels like your boss doesn’t notice or your coworkers who cut out early get away with it. Keep working. You know how to do it. You’ve BEEN doing it your entire graduate career. So keep going. Pick up the slack. When you say you’ll do something, do it. Keep your word.

Help your coworker out, even if she’s the one who crunches smelly food over the cubicle wall or talks too loudly on her phone. Show that you’re committed to whatever job the Lord puts you in: whether you’re a surgeon or a landscaper or a stay-at-home mother. Prove to the world that hard work doesn’t scare you one bit.

It won’t seem like it at first, but people will notice. They’ll notice that you’re different, that you’re committed, that you believe in what you do, that you are trustworthy. You’ll stand out from the crowd. You’ll be set apart. And in that work, you will gain respect.

And that’s because much of what you will encounter in the world—even people—will tend to be quick and easy, to take the simplest way out possible, to put in the least amount of effort possible. But you, you have depth, you have meaning, you have worth in Christ. graduation 5

Take a cue from Him, from the one who created you. He took six whole days to make His creation. He didn’t hammer it out in seconds. He worked at it. He’s a personal being who loves what He does, who creates art, who savors and enjoys the process as much as the product. He interacts with us. He gets His hands dirty. He loves the smell of the dirt, the way this or that feels in His hands. He loves how this curve looks, how that angle feels. He’s anything but superficial. He takes time. He works hard. He does nothing half-heartedly.

And that is what your professors have tried to teach you, what they’ve tried to instill in you: a desire, a thirst to understand, to do more digging, to be deep. And in our age, that’s something. 

So when you are tired, when the work seems never-ending, when you want to give up, when you feel like you just can’t go a day more, when your vision becomes blurred from frustration or anger or sadness, fear or uncertainty, remember this: You have faithful people among you, praying for you, looking out for you. You’re working hard, but you’re not working alone. Anything that you do is not really yours at all, but the Lord working through and by you.

And that is the good news: That the Lord works all things for good despite us. He will provide. And you will move forward, and the work won’t always be so difficult, because God is good.

And remember this: No matter what schmaltzy greeting cards and Hallmark commercials say, you don’t have to change the world. At commencements around the United States right now, other speakers are telling graduate students that they are capable of doing just that, that they can be astronauts and neuro-physicists and CEOs. And you can. And you will.

But you don’t have to be all of those things tomorrow. If you choose not to, you don’t have to be any of those things ever. One of the best gifts our Lord has given to us, to His children, is the understanding of vocation. That is to say, you don’t have to be an astronaut or a neuro-physicist or a CEO to have value in this world. Instead, in whatever you do, serve the Lord. And in serving the Lord, you serve your neighbor, your parents, your siblings, all those around you.

So if you decide you want to another masters degree (Ok, now you ARE crazy.), or you want to teach, or be a professional blogger, or own a landscaping business, or get married and have babies, or set your education aside to care for your help care for your sick aunt, that’s exactly what you should be doing. You are where you should be. It’s the task the Lord has given you, and it’s the one in which He is at work in each of you for the benefit of everybody with whom you come into contact.

So go a little easy on yourself for now. Set some small goals, some achievable ones, some things you can handle right here, right where you are, like, you know, my personal motto: “You don’t have to change the world. Just don’t screw it up any worse.”

Take heart. You don’t have to be an astronaut, a neuro-physicist or a CEO. You don’t have to change the world. Christ has already done that for you.

And one final thing: Hope. Love. Gather. Those are the words you’ve been meditating on for the past year, your theme verse from Hebrews 10: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up on another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

The biggest opportunity of all is placed before you today—one even bigger than degrees or well-paying jobs or letters behind your names or pay scales. And the opportunity is this: to hope in the promises of Christ, to love those around you in mercy and in grace, and to bear witness to Christ, praying that He would gather us to Himself in that same love. It’s a moment of excitement, a moment of potential, a moment that this school has uniquely equipped you for. And by His grace, you will lay hold of it.

It’s inspiring to see each of you graduates here today. It’s heartening to know that each one of you is equipped with unique gifts God has given specifically to you. It’s comforting to know that you aspire to serve Christ and His people, wherever you end up.  May God continue to use you, working all things—your family, your church, your job, your whole life—for good.

Congratulations, class of 2012. You’ve earned it.

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