The Commencement Address I Actually Got to Give

In 2014, I wrote a blog post The Commencement Address I’ll Never Get to Give.

Then I was deeply honored to be asked to address the eight graduating seniors of the Richardson Home School Association, where my husband and I have been teaching. He’s the high school science teacher and I am his admin, I teach cursive handwriting to younger kids, and together we teach “Building Confident Christians,” a faith-building year of worldview and apologetics.

I had already written my address as a blog post, but I tweaked it some, coming in at a very-short-for-me nine minutes (because ain’t nobody goes to graduation for the commencement address, right?):

We’ve taught all eight of you, and I love you! Congratulations! You made it to the cap-and-gown stage. Not without a lot of help and prodding and prayers and frustration from your parents though, right? Thank them. There’s not a single thing you are or do or have that they didn’t have a part in. Thank them! I mean, right now! Stand up, wave and say thank you! (I’ll wait . . .!)

You’ve just finished many years of schooling, and along the way you may have picked up some hooey from the surrounding culture about how wonderful and special you are because of some well-meaning self-esteem messaging. You may have thrown away dozens of ribbons or trophies you received just for showing up.{1}

Those days are over, because that was never real life. Self-esteem and self-confidence are only gained one way, the hard way: working hard to meet a challenge and not give up until you succeed. You earn self-confidence by doing, not by reciting platitudes in a mirror.

I’d like to put on a life-coach hat for a minute and make some suggestions for your post-high-school life.

Most of you just finished Dr. Bohlin’s and my class, Building Confident Christians. We had you do a lot of reading for that class. I want to encourage you to read something else.

If you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People, read it. It’s a classic of how to understand people and how they like to be treated. The reason it’s so true is that the book fleshes out the second great commandment, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

For example, when you see a service person, like a waitstaff or toll booth attendant, call him or her by name. One’s name is the sweetest sound on earth to each person, and service personnel are often treated as if they were invisible. Using someone’s name says, “You are not invisible to me, and I honor you for your service.” Prospective employees and spouses have been known to disqualify themselves because of the way they treated people with disrespect or contempt when out in public.

Everyone has an invisible tattoo on their forehead that says, “Please encourage me.” And most people have an invisible speech bubble over their heads that says, “Do I matter? Please show me I matter.” Every single person you will ever meet is infinitely valuable as the handcrafted masterpiece of the Creator God, and they deserve to be honored and respected simply because God made them and He loves them.

Some final pithy words to the wise. . .

Listen to your body. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, and it will tell you what it needs. Especially listen to your body when it tells you it needs sleep, and green vegetables.

Learn to recognize the nudges of the Holy Spirit, and follow them.

Pray for your future spouse. Assume that you don’t know who they are right now, statistically speaking. He or she is out there somewhere. Your prayers WILL make a difference. (Afterwards, you can ask Dr. Bohlin and me about what that means.{2})

Don’t believe everything you think. You swim in the polluted waters of a culture that has rejected God and biblical values, and some of those ideas and thoughts have crept into your mind, even though you weren’t aware of it.

Plus, Satan and the demons are real, and you live on the battlefield of unrelenting spiritual warfare. You shouldn’t believe everything you think because one of the enemy’s favorite tactics is to whisper in our ears in first person, so we think these ideas are our own. Such as,

  • “It’s okay, I can do this, no one will know.”
  • “I deserve to get my way.”
  • “I am such a loser.”
  • “Well, I’m better than HER/HIM.”

Whether we’re talking about the cultural water you swim in, or the thoughts in your head that come from spiritual warfare, pass everything through the filter of God’s word. Which means you need to read and study it! Every day!

If you wonder if you should be doing something, you probably shouldn’t. If the thought, ‘Should I be doing this?’ even enters your head, it’s an alarm. Invite the Lord into that question!

A few minutes ago I asked you to stand up and thank your parents. One of the most important habits you can ever form is gratitude. Especially toward God. He is continually blessing you with everything from the ability to draw your next breath, to your ability to remember your name, to your ability to walk or drive or think or talk or get a job or more education.

Get in the habit of thanking Him for all those things. Regularly stop and ask yourself, “What would I really miss tomorrow if I didn’t give thanks for it today?”-and then thank the Lord for it. Right where you’re sitting-“Oh Lord! Thank You for cushioned seats! Thank You for 24/7 electricity! Thank You for air conditioning! Thank You for clean drinking water! Thank You for paved roads, and garbage pickup! There are so many things we would really miss tomorrow if we didn’t give thanks for them today.

A grateful heart is not a complaining heart.

A grateful heart is not a critical heart.

A grateful heart is not an entitled heart.

Believe me, it will make you a much better person to live with, or work with, or play with, or just be with.

Gratitude JournalsOne of the best ways to get in the habit of saying “Thank You, Lord” is a gratitude journal. It’s a wonderful discipline to record three things every day (or night) where you saw God being gracious and loving and kind to you, or to someone else. I want to make that easy for you, so I have a gift for each of you, a personalized gratitude journal. I challenge you, over the next few years, fill it up, one day at a time. What a magnificent form of worship that would be!

The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace. Your real education is about to begin.

1. After the graduation, I was humbled and grateful for the comments of the mother of an intellectual disabled child who pointed out that her daughter loves receiving ribbons and trophies for just showing up. It makes her feel valued and loved. I’m thankful for this perspective and I regret that my words caused needless pain.
2. Soon after I trusted Christ in college, I started praying every day for my future husband. Once I met Ray and realized he was the one God had chosen for me, we discovered that he had started having a daily quiet time of Bible study and prayer the same week I started to pray.