At our Baccalaureate service, I have the opportunity to give a brief “charge” to our graduates. Here is my 2013 version.
Graduates, you may feel like your 4, 4 and a half, or maybe even 5 years of college has been a bit of a marathon. Maybe you feel like you started running it that freshman year at Builder Camp and you’ve quoted Dory’s awesome advice from Finding Nemo, Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming (I’m not going to sing the whole song). But here you are, you’ve made it! You’ve turned in papers, projects, assignments, learned how to keep going, even when your body and your mind would rather take a nap. You’ve finished the marathon of college and instead of a medal, we give you a diploma.
Some of our adult learners from our Professional Studies programs may feel like your degree has not been a marathon, but a sprint, as you’ve balanced work, family, and school responsibilities for a couple of years without much time to rest or recover. You’ve sacrificed sleep, and money, and time with family and friends to finish this race and are relieved and excited that it is over!
Anyone who has reached a goal in their lives knows this feeling that you graduates are experiencing today. In fact, I think that there are parallels between running the marathon or sprint of an academic degree to running an actual race. Last Sunday, at just about this time, I had finished running a half-marathon in Oklahoma City. That’s 13.1 miles for you sane people who have no desire to spend time pounding the pavement! It was my second such accomplishment, so one would imagine that I would have thought twice about committing to the hours of training and physical discomfort, not to mention the psychological torture that one feels when setting out to do something of this sort. The training seemed a breeze to me as I struggled to finish the race to which I was committed, oh, about mile 9. And yet, I knew that I had not just gone to Oklahoma City to start a race, but I had gone to finish it.
Thankfully, that’s what today represents for you graduates today. You’ve worked hard, put in hours of homework, stepped out on your own, invested good money into your education, probably somewhere around junior year wondered why you had made some of the choices that you had made, and yet, here you are, you’ve finished the race.
But I hate to tell you, while you’ve finished one race, a different one begins today (well, maybe tomorrow…I’ve give you a couple of days of downtime). The race that begins upon graduation is the marathon of taking lessons that you’ve learned in college and in life and putting them into practice, both in a career, but also in how you choose to treat people, spend your money, and live out your priorities. It’s a lesson that allows for incredible successes, but also, may include some difficult steps. You may be thinking, “Gosh, Ashlee—let us celebrate today! Don’t depress us by telling us how hard things are!” Well, my intent is not to depress you, but it is actually to encourage you as you leave this community and enter a new one.
We read two passages that hopefully should give you a little of the encouragement that I seek to offer you. In Philippians 3:12-14, the apostle Paul writes from prison perhaps his most uplifting words in all of his writing. He is writing to the Church at Philippi and telling them that despite the fact that he himself is in chains, he is finishing strong. He counts the things in his past as successes…his righteousness by the law, his faith in Christ, enduring despite difficulty…but goes on to say that he hasn’t already reached the goal yet…he has to forget what is behind him—both his successes and his difficulties—and press on to finish the race.
So with that word of encouragement, I offer my first piece of advice: You’ve learned a huge lesson about how to keep swimming and finish the race. But remember, just because you’ve finished one race doesn’t mean that you’re done. You’ve got to set your sights on another goal—finding a job that combines your passions and your talents, making your corner of the world a better place, besting your old campus minister and running a faster half-marathon, gaining healthy habits and setting new goals. Push yourself in new ways—the motivation of grades has just come to an end. What are the motivations now for finishing the race? But press on to not just finish this race, but to finish the ultimate race of life.
We go from some of the most motivational words in scripture to a book that contains some of the most negative ones. Our passage contains the rare positive words in the book of Lamentations. Thankfully, Lamentations is only 5 chapters and I guess that if a book is named Lamentations, one shouldn’t expect it to be full of warm fuzzies. The writer of Lamentations offers words that speak to the idea of not letting your present difficulties dictate your perspective. Graduates, despite that which may seem difficult, remember: the continuing love of God never comes to an end. In fact, this is where my second piece of advice comes into play. The writer of Lamentations in the midst of all of his lament says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning! Great is your faithfulness.” Don’t just live in the glow of the blessings of today. You’re stealing the joy of the blessing of tomorrow. So today is great! Wonderful, in fact! But tomorrow holds promise as well, so long as you are willing to endeavor to find it.
I ran that race last week and the pain and in some ways the accomplishment of it is over. And so, I lace my shoes up and run again today…and tomorrow…and the next day. I hope to see you out there on the streets. And I hope that you’ll tell me, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming!” I’ll do the same for you until we both remember that great is God’s faithfulness and his mercies are new every morning! Amen.