It is that time of the year again when students graduate from their high schools and colleges. The graduation ceremony is a rite of passage that is so much a part of our tradition. Commencement speakers call upon graduates to dream, hope and plan for the future. While such words may seem proper for these exuberant youth, they often go unheeded.
If I were to give a commencement speech, I should want to do something different. Generally, speakers either deliver a change-the-world pep talk or a face-the-world sermon.
My angle would address the act of graduation itself, for if well-handled, the consequences will follow naturally. It is imperative to encourage graduates to do what they are called upon to do at this time: Graduates graduate. This means they pass from one stage of experience, proficiency, or development to another higher degree. It is a time of passage.
The Need to Graduate
This is one of the greater challenges of today’s graduates. Many are not graduating. They receive their diplomas with great pomp and ceremony but do not make that passage to the next stage of life. They stay frozen in immaturity, unwilling to make the decisions that require effort and grit.
After the graduation ceremony, they need to realize that they are no longer the high school or college students they once were. They should no longer play the same games, video or otherwise. They must assume new responsibilities. They must seriously think about their future. They should consider the state of the nation and the Church, which are in crisis.
Message to Graduates
My message to graduates would be: graduate!
Graduates! It does not matter if it is difficult. Just graduate.
Dare to be counter-cultural since our decadent culture encourages people not to graduate to anything higher in life. To graduate means avoiding frenetically intemperate lifestyles that destroys one’s future.
To graduate means not looking upon life as an uninterrupted sequence of fun and pleasure. Life is not a beach or a never-ending party; we must progress beyond the confines of our self-interest and gratification.
To graduate means progressing towards something higher. It requires making decisions that will affect the future of self and others. That is what I find so distressing about graduations. So many graduates have little idea of what they are graduating toward. They go to college without clearly defined goals or majors. They seem to desire to extend their high school days for four more years rather than prepare for the years ahead. They often leave college with little more than what they entered—save a great debt.
And so the second part of my message would be to propose three things toward which to graduate.
Graduating Into Adulthood
The first thing toward which to graduate is true adulthood. Whether graduating from high school or college, all have reached the age of adult.
However, many mistake adulthood as merely reaching eighteen. Adulthood marks a special phase in life in which young people become legally responsible for their actions.
Adulthood means assuming responsibilities beyond self. Adults can create life…and destroy it. They might enter into marriage and constitute a family. Adults can own property and engage in business. They might serve the nation and even die for it.
But they can only do this properly if they leave behind childhood. There are many who refuse to become adults and continue as if children well into the twenties or thirties. These are not to be imitated but rejected.
Graduates must graduate to adulthood.
Looking for Meaning and Purpose
Secondly, graduates should graduate to meaning and purpose.
Responsibilities only make sense when life has meaning and purpose. And thus, graduates should assume values and embrace those high ideals that are worth more than life itself. They should desire to fight the evils of the day. They should look for those things that inspire dedication, loyalty, honor and dignity. This quest for meaning might be centered on family, school, community or church. They should embrace true freedom which leads to service, sacrifice and forgetfulness of self.
Graduates should embrace great causes in this time of great crisis. They should exercise Christian charity to all. This might include helping those who are less fortunate, combatting sin and immorality or setting standards of excellence that serve as models for all in society.
They must reject superficiality and hollow pretension; they must graduate to meaning and purpose beyond the confines of their own lives.
Understanding the Cause of Things
The final thing toward which to graduate must, in some way, involve knowing, loving and serving God. There is nothing higher in life since it is the reason for our existence. This is perhaps the most challenging graduation of all. It is undoubtedly the most counter-cultural since our world has lost its way and assumes the absence of God in society.
However, the search for meaning and purpose only make sense in the face of eternity and the existence of immortal souls. Graduates need to assume the presence of God in society. They should naturally seek what was once called a vocation or calling that fits them into the plan of God’s Providence.
Thus, while graduation should be a time of celebration, it should also be a time when young people are encouraged to ponder, discern and “graduate” to that higher calling that corresponds to the desires of their restless hearts. Thus, I would encourage graduates to abandon the modern noise and frenzy that leaves so many young people disoriented.
They should listen instead in silence to the voice of God’s grace calling them upward. It might lead to service, family, excellence, art or religious life. It should always aim to combat evil and seek out good and thus find true purpose in life. Now is the time to listen, for many are those who only find their way much later, if at all.
This would be my message to graduates. In the exuberance of their youth, I wish for them every success and dream that is within their reach. However, I would above all desire that they graduate—that they make that passage to adulthood. Let them seek out meaning and purpose. Let them find their way to God and listen for that vocation that He has called them to fill in society. I can think of no better way to start their next step toward the future.