SUNDAY SERMON: 2020 Commencement Speech
(video followed by same sermon in print)
If you’re graduating from high school, college or grad school this year, you’re probably feeling robbed. You haven’t been able to have the normal experiences that people look forward to: proms, parties, public ceremonies. A huge milestone has turned into a huge frustration. You haven’t been able to get together with friends, participate in sports, or visit prospective schools; and if you’re entering the job market, you’ve seen your options diminish. You’re experiencing more anxiety, frustration and fear than any graduating class in recent memory. To paraphrase Dr. Suess, you’re probably thinking, “Oh, the places you can’t go.”
Everyone wishes this were different. Your parents, teachers, coaches, pastors and friends all wish you could experience this milestone in a normal way. It’s been amazing to see the creativity that has gone into finding substitute ceremonies: virtual proms, Zoom commencements, drive-by graduations and so on. We all wish we could do more.
I’d like to share three simple things with you today. I’ll keep it short because even though you’re online right now, and even if you love being online, you’ve probably been online a lot more than you’d like over the past few months.
First, while there are no guarantees, things will probably get better. People often say that youth is “the best time of life.” But it isn’t true. Most older people report that their faith, their inner peace, and their satisfaction with life has improved over time; and that they wouldn’t want to go back to high school. In fact, on average, the oldest adults are the happiest. So you’ve got a lot to look forward to.
And the world will get better too. History goes in cycles. What we’re going through now has never happened before in our lifetimes, but it happened in other people’s lifetimes, most recently a hundred years ago in the pandemic of 1918. And after every pandemic in history ~ in fact, after every prolonged period of disruption and sorrow, including the Great Depression and the Second World War ~ there came a period of unprecedented community, creativity and prosperity. You’ll get to be a part of this.
This brings me to my second point. Until now, you’ve had very little power to change the world, outside of letter writing, protests and community participation. But in this new phase of life, this will improve. You don’t have to accept the world as it is: a world in which people have lost faith in the governments, wandered away from their faith, and grown selfish and hypocritical. All of the adults before you have teamed up to make the world what it is, but you don’t have to accept it. In fact, we hope you won’t. We hope you have better ideas than we did, more courage than we did, and a desire to make this world a better place. It’s certainly in need of fixing right now. In the words of Isaiah 58:12, you could be known as the people who rebuilt the walls, who restored the ruined houses. We’re cheering for you, and many of us will be here to help you (even if it means stepping aside and letting you run things). More importantly, if you’re trying to help others, God will be with you.
Finally, while we all hope you will be able to have success in the career you want, and to enjoy your work, who you are is more important than what you do. When I think of the people I’d like to see more of, I don’t think, “I wish there were more baristas, or doctors, or musicians,” even though I think all these professions are great! I think, “I wish there were more kind people in the world, more loving people, more caring people, more joyful people. I wish there were more good listeners, more peacemakers, more encouragers.” And all these things, the most important things, are within your grasp, no matter what you choose to do for a living, and even if you’re not working. Every one of you can be what the world needs.
My personal experience, as well as what I’ve been reading over the past few years, tells me that there’s something special about your generation. You’ve been described as the most community-minded generation in years. In churches, you’ve expressed that your favorite type of worship is outreach and mission work. In global news, teenagers have been the world leaders on gun control and climate change. If all these things happen before graduation, there’s no telling what will happen after graduation! I for one am looking forward to seeing what you will become, with God’s help.
The Bible is filled with young leaders, from the prophet Samuel to the giant-slaying David to the mother of Jesus to the evangelist Timothy. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers in your speech, your conduct, your love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Even though you may feel limited right now, your future is actually filled with possibility, as God reassured Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you: plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
May your hearts be lifted by the hope of God, now and forever! Happy Graduation and Amen!