Well, graduates, you’ve done it! You’ve done what only about 30% of Americans over age 25 have done! You’ve earned a college degree. We already knew that you were special—you chose to be a Builder. But let me remind you that this accomplishment, as prestigious and important that it might be, is only just the beginning.
You’ve been trained well, you’ve worked hard, you’ve learned some really important skills—like the point when you absolutely MUST begin writing a paper in order to finish on time, how to find quality research for that paper, how to make a kickin’ presentation, and maybe even the best angle for your selfie to accentuate your face. You’ve come away with relationships that have nurtured you, challenged you, and hopefully shown you that you are stronger than you thought you were. You have finished one really important goal, but today, or tomorrow, rather, another one begins.
Tomorrow is when you decide who you’re going to be when you’re not a student anymore. Oh, I understand, some of you will still be a student. You’ll go to grad school and you’ll get to keep marking your days and weeks in assignments completed, in books read, in tests passed. But the time will come eventually when you must set your own deadlines for things. When your boss wants the project completed by Monday but you already had plans all weekend. When your paycheck doesn’t quite cover that new wish-list item. And maybe when it doesn’t even quite cover that electricity bill. When that happens, and some version of it will happen, here’s what I want you to remember:
You are a Builder. That means something. It means that you know how to build. It’s not the kind of building that we do with a hammer and a nail, but it’s the kind of building of a meaningful life, professional credibility, and relationships with people different from you. The idea of building these things may seem daunting to you right now. In fact, I hear some of you saying, “Come on, Ashlee! Give us a couple of days to celebrate before reality has to set in.” I know, I know…it may seem harsh of me to remind you of difficulties that lie ahead even as you’re trying to forget the difficulties that you’ve just endured, but I offer these words that President Merriman read actually as an encouragement. They’re words that were penned by the Apostle Paul when he was in prison. He told a group of Christians this: “I’m sure about this: the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job by the day of Christ Jesus.” In other words, keep building. You’re not done yet.
Most of you lived in Cole or Wallingford Hall when you were a first year student. You loved it because all your friends were right there. You could always find somewhere to go to hang out with someone. You didn’t have to be alone. But by your second year, you were ready to move to Broadhurst, or Reid, or one of the apartment buildings. Why is that? Well, it seems that all of your friends were always right there. People were always coming into your room to hang out with you. You could never be alone.
Here’s my point: we have to learn to build in our lives. Moving from a residence hall to an apartment gives you the change to figure out how to live with 3 other people. It forces you to learn how to cook. Or at least learn how to make friends with people who cook and then pay for the food. But even if you did stay in Cole or Wallingford for all four years of college and you were graduating here today, we would have kicked out you tomorrow. This is an important metaphor for your lives right now. In some ways, you’ve outgrown your life here. The challenges that you’ve navigated, quite well, in most cases, have given you skills, aspirations, new visions, and a frontier to conquer. We would love to keep you here forever, and some of you we will get to keep a little longer, but I’m reminded that you come here, to leave. College is one of the only times when that’s true. We’ve built, or at least help you build your first solo house. The one where mom and dad aren’t there all the time. But now, we think you’re ready to build your house without us.
You see…as the passage reminds us, a good work has begun in you. A really good work. It’s one that has set you up for success. You’ve been loved by your families, your friends, your professors, and yes, I even dare say your administrators. You’ve been pushed to think more deeply, to write more grammatically correctly, and to speak more persuasively. And you’re here celebrating today, as well you should.
But as you leave, I can’t resist letting you know that even as we’re moving you along in the next steps of your life, we’re praying desperately Paul’s prayer that he prayed for the Phillipians. God, may these students become mature in their love for others. May it be richer and deeper. May they be able to know what is most important in life so that they can spend their lives building that which is most important. And may they do the right things, things that bring God glory, not just working toward a degree. So, Builders…you’re not done building. Just come back and visit every now and then. We wish you all the best and we trust you into God’s able hands. Until we meet again, know that the one who started a good work in you will stay with you to complete the job. Thanks be to God. Amen!