Cary Christian School’s class of 2016 graduated on May 19. 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 our salutatorian was Evangeline Liauw and our valedictorian was Brandon Padgett. These two 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) Brandon’s valedictory address. What a blessing it is to walk the halls of CCS with students like these!

I was told that I would have 5 to 7 minutes to give my speech and then the questioning would begin. Who will be counting me down? Oh sorry, wrong speech…

Here we are. After years of uniforms, uniform violations, Catering by Design, Mr. Cook’s jokes, and godly instruction from wonderful teachers, here we are. So stop; take a moment and look around you; look at the people sitting beside you. Parents, grandparents, look at these graduates (we’re a pretty attractive graduating class if I do say so myself); think about all they have accomplished and all they will accomplish throughout their lives. This moment, the present, is the only moment that matters, the only moment that is real. Cherish it while you can because soon it will be only a memory… Soon tonight will be in the past and we will officially be high school graduates.

This is the first, and last time we will graduate from high school. This may be the last time some of you are in this building. This is the last time we will have to wear dress uniform. This is the last time some of you will see many of the people sitting near you.

High school is a time of many lasts: the last time Mr., how-you-say, Hughes will forget your name; the last time we’ll be taught by a teacher who stole a police boat; the last time Mrs. McDonald will say “We’re gonna go there”; the last time Mr. Adkisson will “assassinate” you in the hall; the last time we’ll learn history from a famous rock star; and the last time Mr. Bates will say “AAARRBBYYS.”

College will soon bring many firsts: the first time living away from home; the first time doing your own laundry (at least for some of us); the first time having to decide what to wear every morning. In a few short months we will be out on our own and responsible for ourselves. We will be leaving this school which we have been blessed to attend, some for 12 years, some for only 1, and entering the real world.

So now is a time when we look back on memories from high school, some good, some not so good, and look forward to the future. But in this I want to give you a warning: don’t hold on to the past, and don’t focus so much on the future that you miss the present.

The past is done and whatever has happened, whatever you have done or haven’t done can never be changed. In the words of the Lion King, when it comes to the past, you can either run from it or learn from it. You will never, however, be able to change it. The past exists only in our memory and in present consequences. We can experience it only when we remember events or feelings or emotions, or when past actions result in consequences that affect our lives now.

This is both good and bad: bad because these consequences may be inescapable and negatively affect our lives; but there is still good because we have an opportunity to start over. You may not be able to forget the mistakes you’ve made, but you can learn from them. The past may be unchangeable but it can, and should, change you.
On the other hand the future is what we all strive for, and is determined by the choices that we make in the present. But so often people get caught up in trying to reach the future now. They strive for distant goals and milestones-“I cannot wait for this school year to be over,” “I just need to graduate high school,” “I can’t wait for college,” “I want to get a job and start a family,” “After I’ve made enough money, I’ll travel the world,” “If only I could retire now and finally start enjoying life.” Sure, these aren’t terrible aspirations. I’m happy to be done with high school; I’m excited for college; I want to travel the world, and get married and have a family.

But if you think that life begins after graduation, after college, after you get married, after you become wealthy, then you won’t live. Life is now. Do not focus so intensely on the future that you ignore the present. If you spend your entire life seeking the next goal, the next milestone, always striving for the future, one day you will reach a point where there is no future, and you will realize that you have not truly lived.

You may say, as T.S. Eliot said, “There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; there will be time to murder and create, and time for all the works and days of hands; time for you and time for me, and time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions… And indeed there will be time to wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”; time to turn back and descend the stair… Do I dare disturb the universe? In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”

But will there be time? Will there be time to do all that you want to do in life? If you keep looking to the future and keep ignoring the present there may not be. “I’ll read that book some other time.” “I’m still young, I’ve got the rest of my life to chase my passions.” “I can speak up for that kid next time.” “I would love to help you now, but I’m really busy, some other time maybe.” “I’ll pray later, I’m too busy right now.” “I can go to church next Sunday.” “I can tell my parents I love them next time they call.”

Do you want to reach the end of your life, always chasing after the next thing, ignoring the important things right now because you think the important things are still to come, and realize that you missed it? The only time you are guaranteed is the time you have right now. You cannot change the past and you cannot make the future arrive any faster. You are stuck in a perpetual state of the present. You will never escape it as long as you live on this earth. So live now. Seek truth now. Think for yourself now. Do not compromise your beliefs. Do not ever conform to this world. Help people now. And most importantly, love God and love people now.

Do not come to the end of your life and say, “That is not what I meant at all, that is not it at all…”

Photo by Mark Lindsay