It was an honor to speak at the commencement of the undergraduate students at Concordia University Wisconsin this weekend.
The text (or at least the gist of it) of the speech can be found below for those who have (1) nothing else to do tonight, (2) insomnia or (c) a love for ho-hum writing.
Graduating from college, after all, is a little bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle . . . in a snowstorm . . . at night. It’s intimidating. It’s exciting. It’s confusing and clarifying. It’s the end of something big, and the start of something even larger. It’s the conclusion of your parents’ worry that you’ll fail chemistry. Again. It’s the beginning of their fear that you’ll actually be perfectly and horrifyingly okay with living in their basement when you’re thirty.
But before you panic, before your mom freaks out, before go out to dinner and celebrate, before you get an unhealthy amount of hugs from family members you don’t really like that much anyway, or post the fourteenth Instagram photo of you and your roommate to Facebook, I’m going to let you in on a few quick secrets, secrets I wish I had known about when I graduated.
1. Being an adult is hard. Why does no one tell you this? We are programmed, from our youth, to be forward thinkers. As children, we wanted to be teenagers. In junior high, we wanted to be high schoolers. As freshman, we wanted to be seniors. In college, we wanted to graduate. As graduates, I imagine that today, you’re wanting to be independent, capable adults.
And that’s good, because that is what the world expects of you. It expects you to be ready to work hard, to stay late, to not get paid overtime. It expects you to think big, to be pro-active, not to settle. It expects you to challenge authority, to press for more, to raise the bar for what qualifies as “status quo.”
It’s hard in other ways too. Some of you on the Concordia Plan are getting married. Some of you aren’t. Some of you have jobs or grad school or internships lined up. Some of you have no clue where to go from here.
Those worries, those are the crosses that you will suffer. But they are also the fears that draw us close to our heavenly Father. They teach us how to pray. They make us completely and wholly reliant upon His love and His mercy. They teach us that nothing in this life is up to us, that Christ is who sees us through in this world. So, in the midst of all these things you’re feeling, all your worries, all your excitement, know this: Being an adult is hard, but you aren’t alone.
It’s sounds cliché, namely, because, well, it is. But there is some truth to every cliché. You really aren’t alone. Our Lord has known about this day, about what you would major in, about what job you’ll get or girl you’ll marry or boss you’ll deal with since eternity. He is the one who is with you, the one who has a good plan and a good purpose for your life, the one whose promise is sure: “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”
Being an adult is hard work, but don’t be discouraged. Not today. You won’t get your way in all things. Life won’t always be as glamorous as it seems right now. But be patient. Be encouraged. God has a plan for you, and He will work it, and for today, in this life, that is good enough.
2. You have no idea how much life is going to change for you in the next few months.
You’re going to wake up on Monday morning, if you didn’t already today, and realize that you never have to do homework again. You will never have to write one more Syllogism, not one more line of iambic pentameter, not even one more lab.
You won’t ever have to eat limp, lukewarm, potentially moldy pizza at 3 a.m. again or fight with the printer in the library to get it to spit your paper out forty-two seconds before class starts or use that gigantic calculator for math class that you really don’t know how to use anyway ever again.
You will never have to experience the walk of shame returning overdue books to Rincker Library, hook yourself up to an IV drip of coffee to make it through the day or open your report card in front of your parent with the same amount of fear and trepidation as a SWAT team defusing a bomb ever again.
Life is about to change for you. Big time.
When you wake up Monday morning, you will be a college graduate. You will have an earned degree, gained over late nights, difficult semesters, long years. But you earned it. You did it. You stuck with it. You didn’t give up. You worked at it. You didn’t take no for an answer. You didn’t wilt when tests got hard. You didn’t quit when grades weren’t perfect.
You’re here today because you are ready for that next big change, whether you realize how big that change is or not, because you have been found fit and ready and well-prepared for the next chapter in your life. You’re here because your professors and your pastors and your parents have deemed you worthy of moving on, even if you don’t feel ready.
So, yes, life is about to change for you. Big time. Even if you don’t realize it. But 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 deserve to be here, and that you are ready, equipped, bold enough to face the next challenge.
Change isn’t bad. Worry won’t kill you. Life can’t overwhelm you. Our Lord has made sure of that.
3. Work hard. And when you think you’ve done enough, work harder.
Do that. Work hard, even if it feels like your boss doesn’t notice or your coworkers who cut out early get away with it. Keep working. Don’t whine. Just do it. Pick up the slack. Prove 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. Show 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. 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. But you, you have depth, you have meaning, you have worth in Christ.
Take a cue from Him, from the one who created you. He took six whole days to make 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. What are you doing is not yours at all, but the Lord working through and by you.
4. Your parents aren’t the backwards Neanderthals you think they are. Ok, maybe they are kind of backward Neanderthals. They may not get Facebook or texting.
But your parents, your family, they really do have your best interests at heart. How can you be sure of this? They’re here today. Look at how packed this place is. It’s filled with your family, your family who loves you and who are proud of your accomplishments.
And here’s the other weird thing: your parents, your elders, those older than you, are actually pretty smart. Contrary to opinion polls, they are not out to get you. They are not out to ruin your life. Entirely. Ok, maybe just a little.
These are the people who don’t just want you to be happy. They want you to do what’s right, to be truthful, to be good citizens, kind friends, and, very likely in the near future, faithful husbands and wives and parents yourselves.
These are, after all, the parents who made sure you got to church every Sunday, who helped pack your lunch, who flagged the bus down when you were late . . . for the fourth time that week, who sat through your squeaky, shrill (let’s be honest) horrible clarinet solos in junior high band, who sent money to you last month when you ran out, who listened to your incoherent rambling/sobbing when your first boyfriend broke your heart, who didn’t freak out (too much) when you totally bombed a test.
These are the parents who prayed for you, who spent hours begging our Lord to keep you safe, to help you succeed, to lead you in commendable, healthy, robust paths. And He did.
5. You don’t have to change the world. At commencements around the United States right now, other speakers are telling college graduates that they are capable of changing the world, 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. 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, you serve the Lord. And in serving the Lord, you serve your neighbor, your BFFs, your siblings, all those around you.
So what if you decide you want to be a cowboy, or you want to own a bed and breakfast or you need to forego your big dreams for right now to care for your sick grandmother in South Dakota, 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. You don’t have to be an astronaut, a neuro-physicist or a CEO. You don’t have to change the world. Christ already did that for you.
6. And here’s the final one: 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 specific gifts God has given. 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.