Yesterday, I sat through my brother’s graduation from the same high school I graduated from seven years ago. I listened as nine valedictorians gave their speeches, and while there were nuggets of truth embedded in some of them, most sounded alike – filled with the typical clichés about “this is our goodbye to our high school and now we look forward to the future and we can’t wait to see how everyone graduating here will go out and change the world.”
Yes. I believe in changing the world. I work with high school students all the time, telling them just that – to pursue excellence and make a difference by the kind of lives we lead. But I wish that someone would have gotten up there and told those graduates and those valedictorians what they actually needed to hear. What *I* needed to hear when I graduated. Because I said the same exact clichés in my co-speech when I was valedictorian.
So here – seven years later – is the speech that should have been given, but had to be learned bit by bit over time.
You are young and hopeful. Many people say that there is no better time in your life. But may I take a moment to remind you that you’ve barely lived two decades – and that there could still very well be five or six more decades to come. When you get to college, you’ll think, “These are the best years of my life.” Or when you get married and start a family, you’ll think, “These are the best years of my life.” Or maybe you’ll turn and look back with regret on times past, thinking, “Those were the best years of my life.”
What I want most to imprint upon your hearts is a lesson that took me years after graduation to learn – that my future is NOW. This is the future I spoke of yesterday – that besides eternal life, the only guarantee I have is the gift of today on this earth. So why am I looking ahead to some mystical time when my future will start and I’ll call that the best years of my life? What if my whole life was lived as “the best years” – so that when I got to the end, I could confidently say, “I lived the best life possible – the one surrendered to God and HIS dreams for my life”?
And with that lesson, remember these few other things that life has taught me since then –
1) Travel. Please. You don’t learn about the world until you go out into it and collide with other cultures, taste the sea salt of distant shores, and discover that the world is so much bigger than just the corner upon which you grew up. The best learning doesn’t come from textbooks (although there can be good truths in them) – it comes from experience, from going out and seeing things with your very own eyes.
2) Don’t let others tell you how to dream. Even our parents, whom we love and respect greatly. And especially not our American culture who wants to fit us into the expected mold. No. Allow your life experiences and your passions way down deep inside to tell you what you should be doing. God put them there for a reason – He wants you to do that which will fulfill you and bring ultimate glory to Him. And sometimes our dreams change. Accept that. Don’t feel that because you aren’t passionate about one thing your whole life that you’re a failure. God oftentimes surprises us with dreams we never expected to have. Trust Him and embrace where He takes you.
3) Remember that the deepest lessons in life are only learned when we go through difficult times. Life will hurt you. But the question is what will you do with that hurt? Will you let it make you bitter and angry or will you let it make you stronger and learn from it? I couldn’t have known all of these things when I graduated from high school because I hadn’t lived life yet. My life had been easy up to that point. And currently, compared to some others, it’s still pretty easy. But that doesn’t mean that my heart hasn’t been broken several times, that I’ve suffered depressing times, and I’ve wondered what my purpose was in life. And it’s only when we come to the other side of those valleys that we can look back and see the rainbows of God’s promises.
4) Realize that you don’t know everything. And as such, learn from everything. Keep your eyes open. If the class is boring or the job is mundane or the situation unbearable, always ask yourself what you can be learning from it. There’s a reason for everything if we only look for it. Be humble and you’ll be the best person to work with.
I certainly don’t know everything. And if I write this speech again in seven to ten years, I’m sure it will look different with the new things I will have learned. But all I want to say is that life is so much more than a cliché. It doesn’t fit neatly into a box tied with a bow, and it’s hardly ever what we expected.
However, we did get this right in our graduation speech, Stephanie and I – Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” God’s the one with the plans, and believe me – with Him in charge, we can always live a hopeful life.
A life that’s happening right now.