The Last Thing We Need Is #46, So Please Stay True To Your Commencement!

“Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your
progress will be evident to all.”
– 1st Timothy 4:15

It’s that time of year when schools and universities around the globe conduct commencement programs. The purpose is to applaud graduates for successfully concluding one chapter of life while giving advice on preparing for the next. If I could offer two tips to keynote speakers and students alike, this is what I’d say: 

Tip # 1 – To keynote speakers: shorter is always sweeter…always!

Everyone in attendance will be there for a person, not a program. Similar to the wisdom imparted to me by Mr. John Laurie Dale before preaching my very first sermon: “George, we’ve got an ole saying around here. If you can’t make your point in 20 minutes, you sure can’t make it in 40…the point being…keep it short and sweet son!” My sermons have never lingered ever since. Oh, how dearly I do miss Mr. John Laurie Dale.

Tip # 2 – To all graduates everywhere: The last thing we need is #46. So please stay true to your commencement!

The word “commencement” actually means “beginnings,” although we use it for endings, such as ending one’s High School or College degree. Many institutions of higher learning in America had exceptional beginnings, or commencements, especially when it came to religion. Harvard, for instance, was particularly unapologetic about its primary goal: “The main end of a student’s life is to know God and Jesus Christ.” Over time, not as much time as you might imagine, those founding principles were wholly abandoned; academia unseated theology to reign supreme as Queen of the Sciences. Jesus’ teachings they felt were antiquated; His word was subsequently ushered out as the wiser modern era rapidly rushed in. Today, hardly a trace of Orthodoxy exists on Harvard’s once most sacred grounds. 

In the same way, scores of eager souls entered school as freshmen, with high ideals instilled from youth firmly clasped in hand. Only to trade them in for pretty much nothingness principles in a span of four short years. Paul lamented this ever-present tendency by stating: “I am shocked that you are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News, but is not the Good News at all.” (Galatians 1:6-7) It’s hard to fathom how wisdom could be so sorely lacking that one would abandon the very thing that got him or her there in the first place. It happens all the time.

Years ago, I spoke to a Jr. High youth group and posed a simple question, not really anticipating anyone to respond: “Out of your 50 or so closest friends, how many would you guess walked away from their faith?” Without skipping a beat, one kid blurted out, “45!” In one of those rare moments, when the right words seemed to fall on the right ears at the right time, I briskly replied, “So what are you going to do about it, because the last thing we need is # 46!” It’s a mantra I’ve since repeated time and time again.

Uniqueness is a highly admirable trait; it’s what makes you stick out and stand out. Anyone can be # 46 out of 50, but that will make you ordinary and boring. It takes someone special to be among the 5 out of 50 who stand firm. As such, allow all Jesus-lovers everywhere to challenge you to  “Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” (2nd Timothy 3:12-15)

Because what the world really needs right now is numbers 1 to 5. So, to all graduates everywhere, please stay true to your beginnings, stay true to your commencement!