My (Hypothetical) Commencement Address // M-Note 5.18.24

Last weekend Jess and I watched as our oldest son, Caleb, graduated from Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. Tonight we will get to see our daughter, Carly, graduate from Webster Groves High School. It is a season of transitions, milestones, banquets, ceremonies and parties. We are just trying to keep up and savor every moment of it all. Part of graduating is receiving wisdom. Graduation speeches, notes in cards, and words of wisdom from others abound this time of year. No one asked me to give a speech (I am grateful really), but after hearing some of the speeches going around on social media, I thought I would share what I would have said to my kids (and yours) if I was invited to talk.
Congratulations. This is a big moment, whether it feels like it or not. Big because it is a threshold from one stage of life to another. If you are feeling a little all over the place, that is ok. You are saying goodbye and hello at the same time. Grieving something ending, celebrating something accomplished, and processing the excitement, anxiety, and perhaps fear over what is coming up. It is a lot.
You have probably seen a lot of speeches going around on Snapchat or TikTok, like the one from the Kansas City Chiefs player telling women that their job is to stay home and have kids. There are a lot of people who think this way, not just about women, but about a lot of things. The world is always changing, and it can be scary and unsettling. Some deal with this by wishing they could go back in time to some earlier way of life. You might even be tempted at times to believe this, but I caution against it. The answers for your life don’t reside in the past but in the future. No one ever moved forward by going backwards. There is wisdom in old ideas, but you must figure out how to apply them to a new and changing world. Also, the past was not near as lovely as folks make it out to be. You can waste a lot of time resisting change. Instead, keep moving forward and engage the evolving world with courage, openness, and humility. Don’t be afraid.
You will discover if you haven’t already that a lot of people want to know what you are doing next. Your future plans matter, and I am proud of what you are working towards. But the most important part of life is not what you are going to do but who you are going to become. The answers to that question won’t be found in a classroom or a job promotion. You have to search differently for those answers, and find wise people to help you. This is the stuff Jesus cares most about, and he can help. Trust him and listen. The world will reduce your value to what you achieve, earn, and produce. Don’t buy into that idea. Life is about more than that.
When it comes to money, be careful here. You need it. Be smart. Save wisely, spend intentionally, give generously, and live gratefully. Plan for the future, and don’t try to keep up with others. But it will seem as if money will make you happy and solve all your problems. It doesn’t. The more you have, the more you want. If you get on that hamster wheel, the pursuit never ends, and it is hard to jump off.
Speaking of happiness, here is the secret: relationships - with God, others, and yourself. Cultivate a close relationship with God. You won’t always feel close to God, and there will be a lot of doubt along the way. But that is part of the journey. Try not to drift, but when you do, God will always welcome you back. Find and keep good friends. Surround yourself with people that are walking the same road you want to walk, and find a few people that are further along the way. You may need to cut some loose every once in a while, but don’t do life alone. Reaching out for help is a sign of wisdom and strength, not weakness. Finally, get to know yourself. Remember that you are handcrafted by God. Forget trying to be perfect. Learn, grow, and change. You are stronger than you think, and your low points are never your last points. There is always more to your story. Most of all, as you get to know yourself, be who you are. The world needs you.
Ok, that’s it for now. I am sure you want to get on with this day. Congratulations. Go do your thing and remember: you can always come home (but we may charge rent).
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