To the Grads of 2020
You are loved, you are not alone, and you are readier than you realize for the times we are in.
Come on! While we are honoured to be asked to deliver this weirdest of graduation speeches to the graduating class of 2020, what could we possibly say that John Krasinski hasn’t said already? How does one compete with Oprah Winfrey or Barack Obama as your graduation guests? Haven’t they and others of international calibre said it all by now?
We’ve heard that these are unprecedented times. Likely you’ve heard that too. And to us (yes, we are both 45 years old), this moment feels way outside the normal. And we’ve had decades of “normal.” Our expectations have been shaped by a lot of stability. How about for you? Does this feel “unprecedented” to you? Most of you were born the year after 9/11. You’ve seen wars begin and end. You’ve witnessed a massive refugee crisis, watched countries be usurped by neighbouring superpowers and the threat of more to come. You are living through what feels like endless political spectacle. You are witnesses to increasing public conversation on climate change and so much more. And all of that info has been available at your fingertips, 24/7. Does this pandemic feel unprecedented to you? Or is it just another strange, uncertain, scary event that has become a part of your story?
Unprecedented? You probably know better, and we middle-aged folks really should know better too. We’ve lived with God’s biblical story for our whole lives – a story that started with a whole cacophony of “unprecedented” events: floods, towers, plagues, pillars of fire, restless wars and so much more. Recently, country music artist Paul Brandt (well-known to us middle-agers, perhaps) said that we shouldn’t call these days unique, because “this is life.”
And yet maybe you are more ready for “this life,” this new normal, than we are. As the Native American poet Clarissa Pinkola Estés said, “I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times. Despite your stints of doubt, your frustrations in arighting all that needs change right now, or even feeling you have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource, you are not alone.”
You are loved
You are not alone. And if there is anything we wish for you and for your life lived in this beautiful world, it is that we hope you will cling to the truth that you are loved. Despite all evidence to the contrary, hold tight to this: you were made by Love and you are held in Love and you are beloved. This may seem obvious, but our experience with University students would suggest it is not obvious enough. We wish that the truth of our belovedness was an easier one for all humans to remember, but so many of us seem forgetful. Is it that sometimes we are plagued with doubt, and we think we are not worthy of being loved? Maybe. If so, we’ve got it backwards. “You are not loved because you are worthy of that love; rather you are worthy because you are so loved,” to paraphrase Dr. Neal Plantinga. Let that phrase sink in, all the way to your deepest soul. You are worthy – not because of all you have studied or the grades you have achieved. You are worthy because you are so deeply loved. That’s what the Redeemer of the universe has shown us from the cross. You are so loved. Life starts there. And by God’s grace, you start there.
Love is your beginning, but what now? Hear this: you are called to be human. Yup, it’s that basic. You’ve done a lot to graduate. Now, we want to remind you to be. Yes, you have great things to do and astounding gifts to share. We trust God enough to know that. But first and foremost, you are the gift. If there is anything this pandemic has reminded the two of us, it is that we are not in control, but that in any circumstance, we can be a faithful, loving, gifted presence to others.
You are beloved. And you are God’s gift.
Now, if you were all standing on stage, we’d ask you to stop and look around. Because if that’s true for you, it’s also true for everyone around you. And on top of that – it’s true for the people you will meet after leaving high school, college or university. They too are loved; they too are gift. What might you do, trusting that? We have one suggestion: be curious.
Honestly, it took the two of us way too long to get past our fear of the unknown; we hope you can shift towards trust and curiosity more quickly. Be curious about the world, and especially curious about other people, all people. Keep asking questions, but not simply for information. Rather, ask questions for discovery and delight. As Rainer Maria Rilke said, “love your questions.” There is a world of beauty that awaits and so many people to encounter. But don’t just stop there! Be curious about yourself, too. We know that everywhere your curiosity takes you, you will find brokenness, but you will also find beauty. As Bono once crooned, “Grace finds beauty in everything.”
That’s pretty much it. You’ve spent years learning things so that you know them. Now we are just strange enough to suggest that after years of working to learn, underneath it all, you need to believe. Believe that you are beloved, and be convicted that you are a gift of God to his beloved world. There’s something about those two convictions that will propel you to keep learning, something about that deep trust in God’s faithful work in you that will drive you to seek more understanding.
You were made for these times. One more word from that poet, Clarissa Pinkola Estés: “I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But . . . that is not what great ships are built for.”