Cary Christian School’s class of 2015 graduated on May 21st. One of the highlights of every CCS graduation is the privilege of hearing the wise and eloquent words delivered by our valedictorian and salutatorian. This year two students shared the title of salutatorian—Garrett Finnegan and Juliana Hoover. Our valedictorian was Jason Thompson. These three students exemplify the kind of young men and women that a classical Christian education strives to cultivate.
For these reasons we are happy to share (or share again, if you had the pleasure of attending our commencement exercises) Jason Thompson’s valedictory address. What a blessing it is to walk the halls of CCS with students like these!
Poof. It’s over. It’s done. This describes our time at CCS. There is nothing more for us to do – we are done here. But what if it also described your life? What if you die tomorrow? If tomorrow you no longer existed on this earth, what would people remember about you? What legacy would you leave behind? You all roll your eyes because we’re young, so there’s no way we could die yet. We have plenty of time to change. I get it, I’m just as guilty of procrastination as any of you. I’ll work on my thesis tomorrow, I’ll do physics practice problems tomorrow, I’ll write my valedictorian speech tomorrow. It also turns into: I’ll read my Bible tomorrow, I’ll pray tomorrow, I’ll do the right thing tomorrow. And suddenly a temporary postponement turns into a lifetime full of unfulfilled promises to yourself. We all put things off. The question is, will we ever change our ways before it’s too late?
I know this isn’t what you want to hear right now. “We’re graduating, we’re just starting out into the real world… why do we need to hear that we should fix our lives before we die?” Part of me feels the same way. We’re teenagers – so of course we are invincible. We can be lazy and still get all A’s, we can smoke and not get cancer, we can speed on the roads and get away without a ticket. So we don’t need to hear messages of gloom and doom. Jason, we want an uplifting, motivating speech!
Alright, I’ll give you what you want. “Spread your wings and fly! The world is there for the taking!” Seniors, we’re like baby birds who have stayed in the nest and been fed by mama bird all these years. Now we’re ready to go out and take the world by storm. Let’s look at the example of Icarus. Icarus’ father Daedalus fashioned some wings so they could fly away from their ancient tower prison. Icarus spread his wings and soared into the air. But he got too close to the sun, the wax in the wings melted, and Icarus plummeted to his death. He probably had a great time soaring up toward the sun, but he died because he only cared about following his own immediate desires. So maybe “spread your wings” isn’t the best advice I can give you.
How about a quote from Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Computer Company? “As you start your journey, the first thing you should do is throw away that store-bought map and begin to draw your own.” That sounds pretty good, right? We don’t need anyone else to tell us how to live. This is our time. We can go out into the world and do things our own way. We’ll be free from the nagging advice and paranoid warnings of our parents and teachers. They don’t know what it’s like to live in the 21st century, anyway. Times have changed, mom – it’s not the 80s anymore. But what about Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” So maybe things don’t always change that much…. that doesn’t mean that I have to listen to old people to tell me what to do. But let’s look at some Proverbs: “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
So I guess none of the typical graduation messages is appropriate tonight. I don’t want you to blindly spread your wings, whatever that’s supposed to mean. And maybe it’s not the greatest idea to disregard wise advice in favor of “blazing your own trail.”
These attitudes will only perpetuate a rampant problem in today’s culture: the life of triviality. “Charting your own course” effectively means doing what many of us have been doing for the last 18 years: not much of value or importance. We take and retake selfies, examining them to make sure they capture our “best side” and hoping to hide our imperfections so we’ll get more likes. We spend more time retweeting wise quotes than we spend following their advice. We do stupid, daredevilish things just so we can show everyone on Snapchat how cool we are. If we go to college intending to live as we want to, we’ll keep doing these childlike things because they’re easy.
Tonight, my question for you is this: When does the “stupid” stop? When will you grow up? When you get right down to it, what are you going to do to make the world better? Here’s the thing – I can’t tell each of you precisely what you ought to do with your life. But it all comes back around to this: die to yourself, and live for someone else. That is the essence of living a good life. There is no other way. You must intentionally serve others before you look to your own interests. This will not happen if you try to “go with the flow.” A selfless life has to come from a deep commitment to loving God and loving people. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Seniors, I know it’s tough to deny yourself. Our sinful nature constantly urges us to gratify ourselves. That is why we do stupid, immature things – it is easier to give in than to stand strong. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
As I leave you tonight, and as we depart as the class of 2015, keep this verse in mind: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Brothers and sisters, I love you more than you will ever know. Please don’t waste the life God has given you. I implore you: die to yourself, and live for someone else.