One from graduate school, one from university, and one from high school. At each event,
someone or a number of someones, will try to summarize the experience and offer sage words
to send the graduates on their way. If I could give one of those commencement addresses,
what would I say? What would you say? Are there still nuggets of wisdom to be panned out
of the river of life they will soon be plunging into?
One thing for sure, the nuggets remain. My wise words? Those have changed because
I have changed. A few years ago I would have been filled with exhortations to seize the day.
I would have railed against conventional wisdom and begged the young graduates not to sell
themselves short. They would have had to listen to stories about the mavericks and
malcontents who took on the powers that be and won great victories. I would have had them
hear the clarion call that motivated my youth and my battles with established authority.
Oh, the rhetoric would have soared; calling them not to squander their precious education
and to challenge the whole wide world and make a difference! Yes, it's important not to settle,
to work for change, and to challenge conventional wisdom...but like I said, I've changed. My
message now would be less Jerry Rubin and more Ted Kennedy. They would not hear "Boots
and Saddles" blaring from a bugle; but rather, would hear me speak about life's journey and
what awaits them beyond the classroom. My address would center around three important
words: Perseverance, Honor, and Compassion.
Most parents and educators never consider preparing their children and students for
those times when life doesn't go as expected. We don't spend a lot of time educating our most
precious resource to the fact that it's natural for life to involve suffering. Fact is, they will get
knocked down. It will probably happen more than once. There will be disappointment and
sadness. Goals will not be readily achieved and success may remain illusive. Every young
graduate will face trouble and adversity. They need to be warned about being knocked down
and shown how to continue moving forward. This will determine a great deal about their
character and the quality of their lives. They need to "persevere".
I would present them with the life of a Ted Kennedy. Burying two brothers, facing a child
with cancer and being declared politically dead; yet continuing to move forward and become
one of the greatest political figures of his generation. They would encounter Nelson Mandela;
imprisoned as a terrorist for over twenty years, and yet the figure of reconciliation for a nation
torn apart by racial strife. I would have them fully aware of the sacrifices others have made
to support them in their education. They would hear about "perseverance".
It is when things go wrong we experience our true character. Overcoming adversity is
how a successful life is defined. Refusing to give in is the foundation to success, no matter
On Wall Street, they sold investments designed to fail and then bet against their client's
interests in order to make vast sums of money. In athletics, we have the examples of Tiger
Woods and Ben Rothlisberger and Lawrence Taylor. The political world is filled with Clintons
and Sanfords, Ensigns and Vitters, Rangles and Palins. "Honor" seems an old fashioned word
without a lot of street credibility. To expect someone to be "honorable" is almost quaint in
today's environment. Yet, without "honor", all their education comes to naught. Ethics and
morality can seem to slip and slide with the tide of history and time; but acting "honorably"
is never out of fashion.
Keep your word and be judicious about giving it. Live up to your commitments. Treat
others the way you wish to be treated. Avoid the temptation to choose the path of least
resistance because the quick fix is often a slippery slope on which you will eventually stumble.
"Honor" has never been open to rationalizations and fake logic.
To be "honorable" and to "persevere" in the face of tragedy and adversity, but to lack
"compassion" is like a ship with no port to call home, cruising from place to place with little
attachment. "Compassion" means to live "with" passion. It means to wear your heart on your
sleeve and to be open to love and to understand when people fall short of expectations.
Graduates need to discover what moves them and fills them with passion and then go about
deciding how to participate in living it.
Understanding "compassion" will eventually lead to the transcendent wisdom of
Matthew 25: "Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters, you do for Me."
Contrast that with the superficial message of American culture and capitalism: "You only go
around once in life, so go for all the gusto you can." Go out and consume. Grasp that car,
the house, the flat screen TV, have a smart phone and computer to use on Twitter and
Facebook, live in a gated community, work ungodly hours, and sell your soul to achieve
economic prosperity and all the goodies that go with it.
Young graduates should be warned that this path to "prosperity" is actually a siren's call
from which they will awaken one day only to discover they are selfish, alone, and have missed
out on the best of life and its purpose: to feel "compassion", thereby knowing what it is to be
Life's path is filled with unexpected curves, obstacles, and tragedies. You must
"persevere". You must know how to regain your balance. You must continue to move forward;
and as you move through life, strive to be "honorable". Stay true to your principles, overcome
adversity, and pursue "honor" with a spirit of "compassion". These qualities will not only draw
you to others, but will draw others to you. You will grow. Your heart will be opened and able
to tap directly into the divine which is at the center of your creation.
Yes, the person I've become would be singing a different tune if I had the chance. I won't
get that chance; nor will I be able to attend any of the upcoming family graduations. I will miss
the chance to see my beautiful children walk across the stage and receive their diplomas, but I
will not miss the opportunities to be an example of God's grace in their lives.
The seeds of "compassion, honor, and perseverance" growing in me are a work in progress
and based on the example set by Jesus 2000 years ago. Together we try to embody the
ancient wisdom, no challenge being too great, as we reach out and take the hand of our
neighbor moving with passion into the dawn of each new day. The cross? It is nothing to fear
for anyone that understands perseverance, honor, and compassion. The cross is not a symbol
of defeat. It is the gateway to redemption and resurrection. Now! Not only at the end of
There you have it...my new song and the hope that we can all sing from the same page
one day. What do you think? Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org