I had the pleasure of “speaking” at our Northstar Students Graduation Night on Friday evening, and I was encouraged afterward to share my letter to the graduates here on Community. I hope you enjoy!
“Well, here I am. Get a good look at me. Don’t focus so much on my face. You’ll never remember anything about that except for my weak, pencil-thin mustache with no middle. I don’t even get to be the ‘official’ graduation speaker. I’m the ‘church youth group graduation ceremony thingy’ speaker. This will be hard, so find something on my person that you can attempt to attach this memory to; this image and lesson that has had, since before you arrived, barely any chance of sticking in your heads. Try to remember the color of my shirt. The color of my hair. My quirks that grate on your senses. Find something about me that annoys you. It’s the best hope you or I have for remembering anything about tonight.
“I don’t remember much about my graduation except for the fact that someone, at one point, said something about Hobbits. There was a clip from The Lord of the Rings that I assume had something to do with the journey ahead of us. I’ll employ no such thing as clever. I’m that awkward guy who read a letter at one of your many graduation ceremonies your parents or mentors needed you to participate in that year that they graduated you from high school. I’m that guy. That’s right; not quite a man in this world. I haven’t earned the dignity of that title just yet, and it’s been 7 years since I sat where you do now. Time apparently doesn’t make you a real man or a real woman. And I’ve already proven that time doesn’t supply you with respectable facial hair either.
“I’m the guy you’ll try to remember in twenty-five or thirty years when you’re sitting at your kid’s ‘graduation something-or-other’ listening to an orator with an equally as unmemorable speech as this one. ‘Who was that guy?’ you’ll ask. ‘Oh, I remember that part! A guy; not a man.’ Very good. I will admit, I probably have a better chance of being remembered by you because you probably already know me. I’m Nick, by the the way (if you don’t). Hello. I guess I’m supposed to tell you a little bit about my own post-high school experience. I’m supposed to tell you to cherish this time. That you’ll look back on high school with fond memories and wish you could do it all over again. I’m supposed to tell you that college is the place where you’re going to find yourselves and become equipped for the ‘real world’. Did you know that, by the way? You’ve been living in a fake world? That’s why people tell you that you don’t know what love is. It’s why your parents want you to stop hanging out with that one dude. But it’s wired into each and every one of us not to listen. Not until we’ve experienced something for ourselves. You can’t take that away from me. Anything else. But don’t rob me of that.
“So here I am; an ex-patriot of the ‘fake world’. I hated high school. I anxiously awaited in vain for my professors to impart to me some fabled ‘life nugget of knowledge’. I was in love at seventeen. I would tell you my opinions on those things now, but like I said, you would respectfully hear my piece and then politely decline to oblige me. Ok, let’s try it anyway. High school is awesome. College is awesomer. Don’t date that guy. How do you feel? Did it work? Here, let me try it with a little more passion. It won’t do to tell you how you’ll miss high school life so much that it hurts. How that first true taste of adult freedom and independence in college is more addicting than heroin. How being in love at seventeen is like the excitement of walking into an amusement park, and how choosing to love someone years later is like the comfort and relief of finally coming home from one.
“Allow me to sum up my high school, college and post-college experience for you. I went to a small Christian school around the corner. My graduating class had 12 people in it. After that, I went to the community college, before they added the word ‘state’ to all of the signs and stationary. It was there that it took me two and a half years to realize there was something called ‘Math for Liberal Arts’. Listen to me, if you’re bad a numbers, declare General and skip College Algebra. Don’t try to be a hero. After that, I commuted back and forth to the only university in Florida without a football team. I lived with my grandparents for free, spent my dad’s money on gas and food, wrote literary criticism for 40 hours a week and played World of Warcraft for 70.
“When I had finally finished it all, I gathered my 3 special pieces of paper, filed them neatly away in a box on the top shelf of my closet and hit the road. I thought I was Jack Kerouac, driving alone into the West with nothing but a truck full bagels and Goober. I made it all the way to Salt Lake City before I called my mom and asked her to MapQuest something for me. The one thing I regret about that trip was that I didn’t stay gone longer. When I returned home, I was optimistic about being able to find a job, even though we were in the worst part of the recession, and even though my degree was in English. Let’s be honest, I didn’t go to college to learn how to make money any faster. I would tell you that you shouldn’t either, but most of your parents would probably have a word with me after. Luckily for me, however, and because of that English Degree, I’m better at words than your parents are and have confidence in my ability to spin those words wisely. And since wisdom and confidence are more valuable than gold, here goes nothing: don’t go to college to learn how to make money. Go to college to become better at something you love.
“It took me less than a year of trying to convince myself I was now worthy of the white collar to learn that there are really great jobs out there if you’re willing to make them up. That’s right, people will actually pay you real money to to do something you love. Some of those actually do require that you wear a collar. That’s great. Just wear a collar you love. I’m twenty-five years old and I don’t dread Mondays. That’s worth a lot more to me than being a ‘man.’ I’ll be just a ‘guy’ for that. I’ll take a pay cut for that. But that’s me. And those are merely a few opinions I have for you. That’s the bit you won’t remember. That’s the bit you’ll take for what it is and form your own opinions from. It’s only right of you. If life were truly like the world of Lois Lowry, and I could impart the actual feelings unto you and keep you from ever making a single mistake, you’d all hide in your homes and marry your moms.
“This next part is the part you can’t argue with. The universal truths. The things that are, for the most part, already a part of your subconscious set of virtues. They are my non- negotiables on a list that could potentially be a hundred items long someday, but given that my life is optimistically only 1/4th finished, I have only been fortunate enough to have recorded 6 thus far. These are the gems that I will proudly pass to my children without a second’s hesitation. I can only hope that you too will discover these truths for yourself (maybe not the exact ones, but some kind of non-negotiable set of wisdoms) and etch them into the proverbial cave walls of your existence and legacy. They are as follows:
“Number 1: ‘Be both loyal and faithful, and do what you say you’re going to do.’ For the most part, this came from a frustration I adopted upon coming to the realization that most people will never truly hold sacred, the things that you hold sacred. To those people, be dependable. Shame them with your faithfulness. Understand that loyalty doesn’t always involve enjoyment. It almost never does. But we do it anyway.
“Number 2: ‘Pay attention, and live your life on purpose.’ It took accidentally driving thirty minutes back towards Panama City on my way to Pensacola one weekend for me write this one down. Do something like that once or twice and you’ll adopt the same philosophy.
“Number 3: ‘Think ahead, call ahead and ask questions! Don’t assume anything.’ The moral here is that you’ll waste a lot less time and feel a lot less stupid.
“Number 4: ‘Listen for God’s voice the most in his word and in his spirit.’ This isn’t to say you should disregard wise council, but I emphasize these 2 because of their unshakeable reputation for being completely and utterly infallible. When a question arises in your life, open your Bible knowing that the answer is inside waiting patiently for your eyes to find it. It’s there.
“Number 5: ‘Write it down!’ If I had adopted this rule in the beginning, I would have most certainly been sharing a list with you 7 items long instead of just 6. I’m still looking for that lost thought. One day.
“Lastly is Number 6. It’s one that I shamelessly plagiarized from Louie Giglio several months back, but it’s so true. It’s this: ‘Don’t over-complicate God’s will.’ Too many people spend their lives waffling back and forth over what God wants them to do. Whether it’s this town or that town. This girl or that girl. Pepsi or Coke. Do yourself a solid, apply non-negotiable number 4 and make the best decision you can. If it’s the wrong one, course-correct and move on. God never meant for us to wander. He will always have the answer. Find it fast and execute.
So that’s that. It may or may not have been exactly what you expected, but given that I’ve only had a 7 year head start on you, it’s the best I’ve got. I leave you with this: my hope for you is that you would break molds, shift paradigms, love God, love others, believe and live by the entire Bible, never compromise, sacrifice for people, build relationships, end relationships, create things, embrace the imperfect, sleep when you’re dead, see however much of the world you are able, take time to rest, do something frivolous, do something on a higher level, read books, take huge bites, spend plenty of time alone, find something that is—for the most part—harmless, and make an unerring decision never to do it (if for nothing else but the sheer sake of building discipline), think of something witty and keep it to yourself forever, see movies by yourself, give away everything that you own (at least once), pray for strangers, pray for friends, walk with God in the valley, understand seasons of life, live inside of tensions, keep traditions, change traditions, break traditions and take time to celebrate. Thank you and congratulations!”