Just putting it here in case I need it later for something. Sorry for the interruption!
My oldest daughter graduates from college in a couple of weeks. Yep. The kid I spent three hours rocking, holding and praying over the night she was born will move the tassel and then move 1,328 miles away to set the world ablaze as a writer (yes, the gig pays).
The missus and I are knee-deep in the hoopla of hotel room procurement, restaurant reservations, asking for time off, extended family communication and the like. The high point is a two-hour ceremony where she’ll be a blip in a sea of mortarboard and the star of the show will be some quasi-famous person giving a speech telling the graduates to get out there, be all they can be and change the world. Something along those lines, anyway.
As an aside, I have the requisite qualifications to judge graduation speeches. When I was a student ministry pastor I sat through over 90 of them in the quarter century I was in that role. Public schools, private schools, alternative schools, charter schools, home schools…I’ve seen them all. Even been asked to give a speech, too, so I got serious about making it a good one and drew on my personal experience and YouTube to get some tips.
In those 90 or so speeches I’ve heard some terrible ones, to be sure. Usually these were people who shouldn’t be asked to give speeches like comedians or movie stars or local meteorologists. I heard some that were pretty bland and given by preachers or politicians or educators who all have a vested interest in playing it close to the vest. There were a few great ones along the way, though.
Theodor Geisel (known to me and you as Dr. Suess) hit it out of the park. Steve Jobs gave one that was amazing. Author David Foster Wallace was predictably brilliant. But the best one I ever heard was from Mark Rosenthal in May of 1998 at the commencement address for Kenyon College.
Mr. Rosenthal, a Kenyon grad, had gone on to found MTV back when it was cutting-edge and all the things that made it a cultural force before it became a haven for reality shows and such (not that I’m bitter or anything). That branched into the enterprise he headed up that owned and launched VH-1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and all that. He knows a little something about making an impact and a few dollars.
Anyway, the content of the speech centered on how he and his friends had to operate on the fringes. They had to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day. They wanted to do things that hadn’t been done before. He even says that they didn’t know it couldn’t be done, so they just did it…even if they were brash and made mistakes. Here’s a quote that sort of captures the tone of his speech:
“We’ve always operated as outsiders, challenging the conventional wisdom. We didn’t know that it couldn’t be done, so we just did it. We’ve been presumptuous. We’ve been obnoxious. We’ve been downright rude. And we’ve made mistakes. Many of them. But we haven’t been safe. We haven’t been predictable. We haven’t trudged along a well-worn path to successful mediocrity. And we’ve never been afraid to fail…Despite a penchant for middle-class, middle-of-the-road homogeneity, America usually comes around to admiring–and rewarding–those who burn their bridges to convention and safety–and light up the sky in the process.”
And, you know something? That was really the tone of my prayer for my oldest daughter when I spent three hours rocking, holding and praying over her the night she was born. Even when she was three and we were reading her “Storybook Bible” before we went to bed and her middle-school youth group and her high school mission trips and college small group leading we wanted her to avoid falling into the traps of a safe, homogenized, antiseptic walk with Christ the Christian Industrial Retail Complex would be proud of.
The missus and I wanted (and still want) her encounter with Jesus and the truth of the Gospel to be so much more than a bedtime story that leads to a “well-worn path to middle-class, middle-of-the-road homogeneity.” We wanted (and still want) her to live out the fullness of her calling, to burn bridges of convention and safety and watch Christ light up the sky for his glory in the process.
So, when the hoopla is over and she moves her tassel some 1,328 miles away, sure, we’re proud of her. Absolutely smitten. But, our prayer for her is really a prayer for all of us, no? The idea that the Gospel message will never been domesticated in us…that the very message of his grace would, as in the closing challenge Mr. Rosenthal gave those students, go out there and “Surprise us. Shock us. Challenge us. Invigorate us. Astonish us.”
Yep. That was our prayer. That is our prayer. For her. And for us.