Whitworth College 2005 Graduate Commencement AddressMay 14, 2005
The title of my commencement address this year probably strikes you as odd. I certainly don't know where it came from. Actually, I have come to the conclusion that these annual speeches are the product of a secret, high stakes Jeopardy game. Here's how it works. In March, the graduate commencement committee begins asking our office for a commencement address title. My assistant, Sylvia, responds by asking me the ridiculous question of what I am planning to speak about two months later in graduate commencement. After a couple of vain attempts to get me to answer, she moves into her Jeopardy mode. This year the way it worked was with an e-mail she sent into my office that simply said "Therefore" with a couple of Scripture passages. Puzzled by this cryptic note, I, of course, hollered out "What's the title of my commencement address? Riiiiiight! Speeches for $1,000."
Actually, I did choose "therefore" as a speech title. I just couldn't remember why. But I think I chose this title because today you stand today at a therefore moment in your lives. Today is not simply a notch in your belt, not simply a credential, not simply a bump in your salary or not even one more rung up the ladder toward your self-actualization, whatever that is. No, this is a therefore day.
I love the word "therefore." This one single word unites the past, the present and the future. Think about it. The word therefore can't be used without reference to something prior. Nobody would walk up to another person and begin the conversation with, "therefore." Something has to precede the word. Nor would therefore be used without something to follow. No one would end a conversation with, "Great to see you, (wave) therefore." Therefore is a pivot point. One elegant word says to us that based upon something that has happened we have reached a point where we can move forward to a new level or with a new understanding.
I'll give you an example of the status of "therefore." Two of our kids are getting married next month, one on June 25 and the other on June 26. Therefore I am broke. Just kidding. But at these weddings, at some point the minister will quote Jesus and say "Therefore, what God as joined together -- something in the immediate past -- let no one tear asunder -- a reference to the future." A wedding triggers a series of therefores. It is a point between the present and the past where everything changes.
Today, and in the days that follow, one of the most important things you can do is look back on this masters degree and say to yourselves, "therefore." Maybe some of these questions will help you complete the sentence.
What am I asking you to do here with all this therefore talk? Quite simply, I am asking you to write your own speech this morning. It is true, my back is pretty sore and it isn't good for me to stand here much longer. But that's not why I'm asking you to write your speech.
My main job today is to shake your hand and affirm what you have received from Whitworth. But what I affirm today is less important than what you decide today. Nobody up here has anything to say to you that rivals in importance to what you say to yourselves.
This weekend, all across America there are graduates sitting where you're sitting hearing speakers say really stupid things. I wonder how many speakers will say, "your opportunities are unlimited." No they're not. There are limits all over the place; you have to respect or overcome them. I wonder how many speakers will say, "I envy you graduates, you have so much you can do with your lives." C'mon, do you really think this year's roster of America's commencement speakers envy today's debt-ridden graduates? I wonder how many speakers will actually tell graduates, "you can be anything you want to be." Yeah, right, and I'm going to play for the Sonics next year. Yup. If there's one thing you can count on from us commencement speakers it's a lot of lies. Our speeches are well intentioned. We want you to feel proud and hopeful. But sometimes what we say makes about as much sense as a Woody Allen's graduation speech where he said, "It is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock."
My point is this. I can probably give you a decent speech, but it just isn't as important as the one you give yourself today. Title your speech, "Therefore." Or choose the more pedestrian title of "So what?" I have a degree, so what? In other words, don't let today be a milestone or a conclusion. Make a decision about your life today. And make it a big one.
I know some of you are in situations where receiving this degree won't change your life much. You are in the midst of a job that won't change, in a place that won't change, in a family and church that won't change, and your "therefore" doesn't look to be a very big therefore. If that's the case, I have a different there for question for you. As you think about your job, your community, your family, your church, and the general place of your life,... I ask you, "What are you there for?"
We at Whitworth College affiliate with the Presbyterian church, a denomination with roots in the Reformed theological tradition. Among other things, this means we take the providence of God quite seriously. We believe God places people in situations for a reason. Being made in the image of God means we are not choiceless puppets that God divinely moves around. For the most part, we make choices that create our circumstances; but, nonetheless God has permitted those choices and has a special purpose for you exactly where you are. What is it? What are you there for? How can this education help you fulfill your purpose? Can today's therefore help you accomplish what you are there for?
I know you will forget this speech, but I hope you never forget the decisions you make today. In the providence of God you have been given the great gift of an education. And it is a gift. Listen to a note I received three days ago.
Also, in God's providence you are where you are. As you think about the purpose in where God has placed you, I hope you will listen for a voice. In today's scripture, Moses heard the voice. And I wish I could have been there.
Here's Moses, just minding his sheep and minding his own business when he comes across a talking, burning bush that doesn't burn up and tells him to take his shoes off. Now, he doesn't get a gold star for noticing that voice, and I doubt if the voice you hear will be quite so dramatic. But the voice in the bush was that of Jehovah God, and Moses listened. We find out in verse 10 that Moses had been chosen to be the instrument of God's own therefore. God had seen the affliction of his people, THEREFORE (vs.10) he decided to deliver the Israelites and picked Moses to do the job.
What was Moses there for? He was there to be God's therefore. Perhaps God has seen the struggle of a student in your class, and you are there for God's therefore. Perhaps God has heard the prayers of friend in your life, and you are there for God's therefore. Perhaps God has seen people in desperate financial straits and you and/or your business are there for God's therefore. Your vocation is beyond being a teacher or a business person or a homemaker. Your vocation is whatever the voice says to you. That's what vocation means -- v-o-c- voice, vocal, vocation. Search for the burning bush in your life. It will give you the vocation of your station.
And when you do hear what your role is in God's great therefore, say yes. It may be daunting, it may be beyond you, it may discomfort you, it may stretch you until it hurts, it may even require you to rely utterly upon God, but say yes. Moses didn't think he could answer the bell when God said, "therefore come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." But in verse 12 God gave Moses the best insurance policy anyone has ever received when he said, "Certainly, I will be with you."
So graduates, make this a therefore day. Decide what you will do with this precious gift of an education. Find that burning bush and discover why you have been brought to this moment in time. And know that our thoughts and prayers go with you, and more importantly, know that certainly God goes with you. Best wishes.