MTHEA Graduation 2019
MTHEA staff and board, friends and relatives from far and near, parents, and students,
The day has come. I’m sure you’ve heard that the older you get, the faster time passes. So for someone like your parents or grandparents, seeing you as graduates can be a shock to the system -- from where they sit, you’re barely potty trained. But from where you sit, more importantly, you find yourself at perhaps the most important crossroads you have encountered thus far in all your 18 or so years. You have climbed a mountain and now find yourself looking out at an expanse full of...full of...well, that’s the thing -- we don’t know what all is out there. And so we’ll understand if your emotions are all over the map -- careening from exhilaration to panic attack within a matter of seconds.
You know we homeschoolers are a peculiar lot. Whatever reasons your parents had for making this hugely significant choice, you are a unique part of American society. And speaking of and to parents, your child may be the star of today’s show, but you are at the very least in the best supporting actor category. You have made sacrifices, taught your kids things you didn’t even know, made all of life a classroom, and (hopefully) imparted to them a love of learning. Students, now would be a good time to express a little gratitude, so I’d like to invite every home school mom and dad to stand.
How many of these can you relate to:
You might be a homeschooler if…
… you are filled with fear and dread when you hear the word “Saxon”
… birthdays are school holidays
...you ever asked your mom, “Does this count as school?”
… you’ve ever read the dictionary or encyclopedia in your spare time (don’t stop!)
… Mavis Beacon taught you to type
...you asked your mom what something is and she asked you to write a report about it
...”Ticket to Ride” taught you geography, “Settlers of Catan” taught you economics, and you learned fractions in the kitchen while baking and cooking.
Do you ever get tired of fielding questions about why you home school?
When someone asks you how long you’re going to home school, ask them how long they’re going to wear their hair like that.
Or when they ask the inevitable question about socialization, tell them with a straight face that you believe friends are a distraction.
Even though we have so much in common we would be mistaken to think we’re all the same. The danger of attempting to make a speech like this is that very few things in life are one size fits all, including home schooling, by the way. We did home school all three of our sons, but only one was only home schooled. What you may really need to hear might be pretty much the opposite of what the person sitting next to you needs to hear.
For example, the perfectionists among us might need to hear the words “Good enough is OK; get a life”, whereas others might need to hear the words: “When are you really going to bring your best?”
Some of you may need to hear the words, “Follow your dreams” (although that wouldn’t be very original in a commencement speech), and some of you may need to hear that it’s OK that you don’t necessarily have a dream right now. You might even feel ashamed or embarrassed because there isn’t a special passion propelling you into college and beyond.
So in the remaining minutes we have, my humble attempt at offering some nuggets that will hopefully find a place to lodge in your memory, if not your heart. It can all be summed up in a single sentence -- a profound truth, a secret of the universe I learned some time ago:
Wombats often catch scrumptious caterpillars.
Yes, it’s what they call a mnemonic device. I can’t say I’ve researched just how into caterpillars wombats are, but I can bet you the next time you see a wombat crossing the road, you’ll remember today!
1. SEEK WISDOM
“Wisdom cries aloud in the street,
in the markets she raises her voice;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?’”
A more modern rendition might read something like,
“Wisdom cries aloud in rush hour traffic,
at the mall she raises her voice;
on the cyber highway she cries out;
on all the social media platforms she speaks:
‘How long, O shallow ones, will you love being superficial?’”
Indeed, you can be full of knowledge but low on wisdom. You can be wildly popular, but low on wisdom. You can become an expert in your chosen field, but still not understand human nature. In other words, you can be a mile wide and an inch deep. Wisdom isn’t developed overnight; it comes with experience, if we let it. It teaches us how to act and react, how to judge rightly, when to speak and when not to. It gives us insight into people, how we are all different yet have so much in common. And it acknowledges that that other person, whoever he or she is, is just feeling their way, one step at a time, just like the rest of us.
We should add here that we have backed ourselves into far too many corners by creating false choices -- either/or situations. Here is a great example. The good news is that you don’t have to choose between wisdom and knowledge; the two should grow up together -- as best friends.
2. STEP OUTSIDE –
Home schooling by definition brings with it certain parameters. While we can learn about the world around us in our pyjamas in the comfort of our own home, a time comes when we need to step outside that comfort zone. As we mentioned earlier, we have much in common here today; in fact, it could possibly be said we have a little too much in common. We are overwhelmingly white, middle class Protestant or Evangelical. It’s outside this zone that the truest, most permanent growth comes. It’s outside the zone that our perspective is challenged, and most importantly, broadened. Now far be it from me to argue with taking advantage of the Hope Scholarship and Tennessee Promise. We did so ourselves. But it’s true that before these big incentives, Tennessee students attended far more colleges and universities outside the state. So now the challenge is to look for other opportunities to step outside. This might begin in your own city, as many of you have already done, by exposing yourself to other cultures and subcultures -- in a word, others not like you.
Then it will be no surprise to those who know me that I urge you to spend some time outside our borders. No matter how you may feel about globalization, the world is shrinking on a daily basis, and more and more interconnected. Your generation will be more affected by what happens on the other side of the world than any previous generation. So this generation needs to be more culturally intelligent than ever before. I believe that the more globally aware we are, the better citizens we will be at home. The more culturally intelligent we are, the better employees, better students, better writers, better problem solvers, and better innovators we will be. Perhaps the most valuable part of stepping outside is the ability to view life from the perspective of others – and isn’t this the very definition of maturity? I urge you to seek out study abroad opportunities. Get proficient in at least one foreign language. In the rest of the world, the question is not, “Do you speak another language?” but “What are your languages?” It’s time we got in the game.
3. CHARACTER over TALENT
I’m speaking today to an extremely talented group of people. I of course don’t know nearly all of you personally, but the ones I do know sprinkled throughout this illustrious group I think are a good indication. It’s quite possible your talents have already taken you to some exciting places or experiences – whether it be athletic talent, musical and artistic, debate or other intellectual talents, etc. Talent is highly prized in our culture. Ask any child who he wants to be like when he or she grows up, the answer is not going to be a politician; 90% of the time it’s going to be a pop star or a professional athlete. But you need only look for about a nanosecond to find that these areas, among others, are chock full of disaster stories...where someone rose to the tip top of their craft, only to take a nose dive when the curtain was pulled back on their private lives.
Don’t hear me saying you shouldn’t pursue careers like that; do hear me saying that character is the foundation that sustains talent. Just like wisdom and knowledge, character and talent should be developed side by side.
Character is what was hopefully already forged in your home, when you learned how to “do hard things”, to bring your very best, even when you didn’t feel like it. It’s what enables you to be others-oriented, using your gifts in service to others. It’s what the apostle Paul is referring to when he talks about putting others’ interests before our own. It’s a good friend of perseverance. And humility. True humility isn’t self-deprecation; it’s simply knowing who you are; as Socrates said: “Above all, know thyself.” Know your strengths, as well as your weaknesses. Move in your strengths, acknowledge your weaknesses. Character is also what determines how you respond to adversity, or even suffering.
4. STRENGTHS over PASSIONS –
As we mentioned earlier, at this time of year, all across the country, graduates are being encouraged to follow their passions. Here’s my take:
While I absolutely want every one of you to find work you’re passionate about, I think maybe this is a case of asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of asking ourselves what we’re passionate about, we should think about what we’re good at. In other words, what our strengths are.
I prefer to talk about strengths over passions for a number of reasons:
First, following passion might give the mistaken idea that passion is all you need.
Second, the word passion makes some people feel inadequate because they don’t have a “passion” that could come close to paying the bills. Like quilting or X-box.
Third, what we call passions can often end up fading more quickly than we would have ever thought.
Before I end up discouraging every one of you from any hope of a fulfilling career, here’s what I would submit:
Look at your strengths. Find something you’re good at (and, granted, something you don’t absolutely hate) -- and get really, really good at it. In fact, get “so good they can’t ignore you”, to quote a current book title. This is going to take tons of practice. 10,000 hours according to Malcolm Gladwell. And you might just find that, after so much practice and getting so good, your passion has caught up with your strength. I have definitely found this to be the case in my own life.
I’d like to address one thing here that is a bit of a sticky subject. (MTHEA never has to invite me back again!)
I fear that many of the decisions we make are not out of faith, but of fear. And our theology often has something to do with this, whether we realize it or not. We’re afraid of making the wrong choice, as if there is only one right choice. We would never come out and say it, but somewhere deep down we’re afraid that God will be displeased with us -- that if we “step outside His will” we’ll be at great risk.
I was talking a few years ago with a recent graduate, who told me God had told him to study medicine. The thing is, he didn’t seem the least bit excited about becoming a doctor. There were other things he was more interested in, but you don’t argue with God, he said in so many words.
What kind of God is that? What if there were more than one right choice? What if God were the Redeemer we say he is and can make even less-than-best choices into something for our good?
So today I say turn your back on fear of making the wrong choice. Trial and error is OK, and so is failure. Failure is a wonderful tutor. (I would add one qualifier here: don’t go into thousands of dollars in college debt for the sake of trial and error. I had one friend in college who I believe was in his 9th year of college at an expensive, private university.)
But you know what? It is also possible to have more than one career. I am currently in my third, and have found immense fulfillment in each one. Just pick something you’re good at, pursue whatever path is necessary for getting even better at it...then run with it. And seek honest feedback from a few people who know what they’re talking about regarding your strengths -- and this might not be your best friend or your girlfriend.
5. Stay CURIOUS
Curiosity is what fueled the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, space discovery, and the technological revolution of the late 20th century. But curiosity isn’t just for scientists (although it comes in really handy) – it’s for everyone. It’s what makes you slow down to wonder – wonder why something works the way it does, how that color can be so vivid, how that one ingredient made all the difference in that dish, how the French and Italians can possibly eat the way they do without getting obese, how that author could imagine such a well told story, how the ancients were able to build such magnificent architectural masterpieces with the resources available to them…and how you could be so fortunate as to be right where you are.
Every life should be peppered with Aha moments, or even audible gasps. Indeed, the sense of wonder shouldn’t diminish as you become an adult; on the contrary, it should grow and grow…. I can honestly stand before you today and say I am far hungrier, far more wonder-filled than I was at your age, and I hope never to be fully satisfied.
Moving out from under the umbrella of your parents’ tutelage, you’re going to be confronted with new ideas and start to form your own opinions. This is as it should be. Never stop asking questions. If we did our job right, we didn’t teach you WHAT to think so much as HOW to think. I hope you develop an allergy to easy, pat answers, as you discover that this world isn’t as black and white as some of us would like to think. I hope you begin to appreciate nuance -- a word that is sadly lacking from conversations in today’s world.
Practice gratitude. And generosity. Be a good listener. Work hard and play well. Practice the presence of God. Love well, for that is your most lasting legacy.
I’d like to close by asking all of you graduates to stand for a blessing, part of which is adapted from poet John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us:
Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.
Praised be your father and mother
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be…
Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be…
Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days…
May you face what is ahead
With lion-hearted courage
Yet open hands
May you open your heart
to the unexpected,
To the divine surprises that punctuate our lives
May you prize solitude while loving those close to you well
May you know the satisfaction of giving your best
And then, to rest
And may you trust the Sovereign Hand guiding our lives
To lead you to fruitful, peaceful, horizons
God bless you.