I was asked to bring a reflective meditation for Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School Hall of Fame Ceremony. It was held on November 4, 2013, Will Rogers’ birthday. It was also the inaugural event for the high school’s 75th anniversary year of celebration. I began by imagining what it must have felt like to be a teenager in the fall of 1939 as the first students sat in that magnificent 1,500 seat art deco auditorium. Students and teachers alike found themselves in a million-dollar building on what had been a cattle pasture a couple of years earlier. The Depression, the Dust Bowl and clouds of war were daily topics of conversation. Today there are two very senior alumni left from that first graduating class. Looking back from the future is all about learning the stories.
For the past few years I have been hearing stories from some of the attendees of the high school’s 50th Anniversary. For months some of those same people have been planning the 75th Anniversary Gala to be held on April 12th. (Go to www.WillRogersFoundation.net for details.) It will be a grand reunion with hundreds of former students and faculty. I encouraged the class of 1989 and others to take good notes because 2039 and the 100th Anniversary of the school is not that far away. I ended my part by asking God to continue to bless the legacy of those who dreamed of a future shaped by inspired teenagers who would go on to do great things.
The future is always closer than we think. I remember as a boy trying to figure out how old I would be in the year 2000. That was impossibly far away, if I even lived that long. Now it is 2014 already. What will your life be like in 2020? That’s just six years away. Do you have a future vision for yourself, your family and your church? Do not give up on your future. In our ever-changing times, the future is still built on our life stories and relationships, guided by God’s Word and redemptive love.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Discover the future. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
Teachers are a whole lot like people. One day I saw my first grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, at the grocery store. I thought it was strange. In the ninth grade I was shocked one night at church when my science teacher, Mr. Mashburn, turned out to be one of the guest soloists at the Christmas cantata. Right then I had this incredible insight—school teachers must be people too. Some of us take a little longer to discover the obvious. My favorite teacher was Mrs. Evans. She taught fourth grade.
Do you remember the rule about not chewing gum at school? Mrs. Evans explained it this way: “Do as I say, not as I do.” She always chewed bubblegum after lunch. Sometimes she forgot to throw it away before class. She told us that the real reason we could not chew gum at school was because some children did not throw away their gum properly. She made us look under our desks. Petrified gum and freshly chewed gum can be easily distinguished. Her solution was Lifesavers everyday after lunch for everyone. Mrs. Evans also taught us how to read with understanding. It was one thing to read the words, she said, it was quite something else to understand the “intent and content” of a book or story. She opened my world. Also, she could blow the biggest bubbles with her gum.
I liked some of my teachers more than others. I preferred the explainers, challengers and encouragers, but I have been shaped by each of my teachers. I have worked with school teachers and principals now all of my adult life, from homeroom parent to school board member. The teachers I know live for the moment of insight and understanding. Teachers prepare, plan and provide over-and-above all they can so their students will catch the joy of life and discover their own dreams for tomorrow. As the school year comes to an end, be mindful of the teachers who sacrifice so much so our world will be so much better.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Appreciate a teacher. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
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.
Recently I was the guest principal for a day at Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School. My assignment: shadow the school’s top administrator and experience an up-close and personal look at the daily operations. Last week the school was featured in a major front-page story on proposed changes to nearly all of the Tulsa Public Schools. The changes proposed for Rogers, an urban school with nearly 1,000 students in grades 9-12, are the most far reaching.
Principal Lyda Wilbur spent the morning trying to convey the proposals and their implications to faculty and students alike. A series of brief assemblies were held by grade level, and the senior class was also told about low-cost college and career opportunities available after graduation. The school qualifies for 100% meal subsidies because of the economics realities of the student population. Then principals and their guests from the whole district met with the TPS Superintendent and Tulsa’s Mayor for lunch off campus. Returning to the school, we observed class in session, dealt with student situations, advised on some faculty issues, experienced a disaster drill and counseled student leaders on how to have their voices heard concerning the proposals affecting their future at Rogers. I left the school that afternoon at 4:45 with Mrs. Wilbur heading back to her office for more one-on-ones with faculty, parents and students, to be followed by her paperwork, answering e-mails and returning more phone calls.
A couple of thoughts come to mind. One, let’s not forsake our public schools. All of the pressure points of today’s family life, culture, economics and social unrest converge on our schools. We have strong, well-educated and dedicated teachers and staff who deserve our respect, our support and our involvement in our schools. Two, it’s not about the money. It’s about changing lives for the future and equipping students with the tools of knowledge and skill. It’s about exploration, discovery and life fulfilling dreams. If Christians will not step up to serve our schools and love every student in it, who will? If Christians abandon our educational system and promote the “every man for himself” egocentric philosophy of today, we will reap the harvest of prideful emptiness and a generation who cannot dream of a better life.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Visit a school. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
I attended two “Meet the Teacher” events last week for two of our grandsons. With a profoundly uncoordinated calendar, all of the schools in Tulsa County have started, are starting, or will start classes by August 23. Two school districts picked a Friday for the first day of school. Don’t these districts remember that the whole reason school has been out is so the children and teens can help with the summer crops in preparation for the harvest this fall? Those children have been needed around the house all summer to work the fields, clean the barns, and can the fruit. Not to mention how useful they are every day with the chickens and the pigs. – Maybe it is time to reconsider what the school year should look like in an urban America in the 2010s.
On the other hand, the teachers I met were delightful. It was obvious that they love their work and are looking forward to the challenge of getting to know their new students. There were a number of students dropping by to say hello to their former teachers. Many came to thank them for the impact on their lives. One elementary teacher was saying that he was about to have as a student the son of a former student. Some parents were a little misty-eyed.
I have been a public school volunteer now for over 30 years as a parent, a pastor, and a former school board member. Our church began an intentional ministry with Tulsa’s Will Rogers High School in the spring of 1991, with Tuesday Time Out, where the students could come to the church for an all-you-can-eat pizza lunch. They really could eat pizza! We’ve continued providing food, friendship, prayers and our facilities to students and faculty alike. All of this is in a spiritual context of love and service in the name of Christ. It is easy to complain about the public schools (see above). Consider, instead, walking into the building as a volunteer to make a difference, or supporting your church’s ministry with the public schools.
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Pray for your schools. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.
Oklahoma’s most famous humorist, Will Rogers was born 130 years ago this November. Following his tragic death in Alaska in 1935, the Tulsa School Board authorized the naming of its newest and grandest high school after him. This September marks the 70th anniversary of the opening of Tulsa’s Will Rogers Senior High School. Historical, guided tours of the school are being held for the public. The big celebration week starts on September 14 with a picnic and concludes with lots of special presentations the evening of September 18 in the school auditorium. For more information call Pam Lundy at (918) 746-6411.
Last week a group of us met at our church with eight teachers, counselors and community resource leaders to explore ways our church can further partner with the school to address some of the needs in the Hispanic community. English language classes for students and their families are a top concern. On Sunday afternoon 103 people representing 10 of our neighborhood churches joined us as we walked and prayed throughout the hallways of the school. This week our church hosted our annual Start of School Faculty/Staff Luncheon on campus.
We have been seeking to bring the presence of Christ into the hearts and lives of the students as well as the faculty and staff at Will Rogers High since the 1990-91 school year. We have been a continuous Partner in Education since that time. Our number one commitment does not cost any money—we commit to pray for the school every day. Praying for the school does mean that we must practice this spiritual discipline each day. I seek to pray for the students and their families, the teachers, counselors, coaches, the principal, the administrators, the superintendent and the school board. It is not easy. It takes spiritual commitment. Will you join me in this effort?
Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Pray for our public schools. And let’s experience the love and power of God together.