[Valedictory address at the commencement ceremony at Hopewell (VA) High School, June 14, 1977. I cringe on reading this 44 years later, though the core values expressed haven’t changed much.]
Graduation from high school is one important step in the long process of becoming an independent adult. Parents and teachers will never again have the same control over our lives they have had until now. And, consequently, we will no longer be able to depend upon them to make our decisions for us and accept the responsibility for them.
Like it or not, we have reached the age when we must make our own decisions, when we have become responsible for our own lives. Most of us have eagerly anticipated this moment, but as it approaches I find in myself, and in many of you, traces of hesitancy.
We recoil from the fact that nearly one-fourth of our life is irretrievably gone, that the preliminaries are nearly over, and that we must find something else to do with ourselves now that we are no longer required to go to school.
We want to do worthwhile things, but we are not quite sure what is worthwhile. So most of us will spend the rest of our lives eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, having children and teaching them to be just like ourselves, all the while alternately “taking care of business” and “wasting away in Margaritaville,” until that day, which we will have thought about as little as possible and delayed as long as possible, when we shall die.
I am reminded of a Peanuts cartoon. Linus begs his sister Lucy to read him a story until she finally snatches up the book and pretends to read. “A man was born. He lived and died. The end.” Lucy slams down the book and stomps off. We agree with Linus that that not is not satisfactory story, but I wonder how many of us will make our lives less routine.
Some of us may try to redeem ourselves by making extraordinary efforts to benefit humanity. I am reminded of another Peanuts cartoon, one in which everyone is discussing the “meaning of life.” Charlie Brown has decided that we were put here to do good to others. Lucy asks, “If we were put here to do good to others, then wat were others put here for?” Think about that. Comic strips are sometimes more profound than we suppose.
But let’s get to the point. If there is really more to life than a good suntan, a good tennis game, a good collection of classical records, and lost of beer, sex, and money, what is it? Is it possible there is more? Is it possible that the sound and fury does, after all, signify something? Is it possible that we humans derive our personality and intelligence form some source other than clouds of chemicals or packs of paramecia? Is it possible that we are created in the image of a creator who loves us and has a purpose for us? That Jesus Christ, who became a man, died, and was resurrected, does in fact sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, as some say, and that He will in fact return to earth?
If so, we must certain take these facts into consideration as we consider what we want to do with our lives. These questions are not primarily religious; they have to do with ultimate reality. The highest possible aspiration of any high school graduate, or of anyone else, would be to become familiar with and live in harmony with his creator, and we would be less than fully human if we ignored him and occupied ourselves with lesser pastimes as if we were creatures of time and not of eternity.
This is a weighty matter, and we would rather not be bothered with it, either because we are too lazy to seek the truth or because we are afraid of what we will find if we seek.
Our first reaction is, perhaps, to be annoyed at the intrusion of such an unwelcome problem. What a shame! We ought rather to be elated at the possibilities it opens for us! What a relief to escape the tedious and the routine, to live a life that will mean something now and forever! We can stop hesitating and step forward boldly, confident that we are making the right choice, confident that our life will be worthwhile and fulfilling because it is what our maker intended it to be.
I would like to close with an excerpt from the writings of Paul of Tarsus, a Jew and Roman citizen of the first century who had everything going for him until he encountered Jesus Christ and learned what it meant to live in light of the basic facts of human existence.
He said: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as trash, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him. . . I do not consider that I have made it on my own; but one things I do, forgetting what lies behind and striving forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
That, my friends, is the outline for a successful life.