No one should give a commencement address unless they have personally listened to fifty commencement addresses by someone else. I say this on behalf of all students and their families. A corollary to this would be: a kindergarten graduation does not need a commencement speaker. On a positive note, there are about twenty-five remarkable commencement speakers in the world today. Pop quiz: who was your high school/college/graduate school/tech school commencement speaker? Bonus question: What was the point of the address?
Have you ever noticed that attending a graduation ceremony is a whole lot like going to a formal church service? That’s because universities were born of the Church. The earliest European and American colleges were extensions of spiritual education, both for the training of the clergy and for the creative development of the individual. Ministers and lawyers were the first graduates of the university system.
My alma mater, Samford University, was established 170 years ago in rural Alabama as part of a Baptist missions and evangelism effort to reach more people for Christ by training and equipping ministers. For nearly three-hundred years of American history the local pastor was one of the most educated people in the community. Even the public colleges and universities of today remain wedded to the traditions designed to inspire their graduates to a high calling (vocation), lofty goals, and noble ideals.
My college commencement speaker was a U.S. Representative and Baptist minister, John H. Buchanan. He was a last minute substitute for Joseph Blatchford, Director of the Peace Corp, who had taken ill. Buchanan’s point was: “Follow the truth wherever it may lead you…change what is unjust or unworthy. Change does not mean ‘to destroy.’ Be a realist…and do something about the problem…but don’t be a problem yourself.” This was the challenge to the Class of ’69.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Seek the high calling. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.