“Let truth and honor be your guide…”
I’d been blubbering by this point, sitting in the center aisle for my former students’ graduation. I wasn’t related to any of them and hadn’t taught public school in well over a year, so I was trying to cry discreetly.
But it’s difficult to wipe snot on your forearm without looking like you’re wiping snot on your forearm.
I cheered as students gave speeches and wore regalia for high-honors recognition. I wept as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. But then an administrator congratulated the Class of 2019 and encouraged them, “Let truth and honor be your guide as you conquer the world before you.”
And immediately, all favorable sentiments dried up.
No, no, no.
Truth and honor can never be your guide. You will never be able to conquer the world.
And no matter how many graduation cards promise you the opposite: the world will never be your oyster.
The American Fallacy
It’s harsh to hear it at first, I know. After eons of having people encourage you that “you are the captain of your fate,” it’s disorienting to read the exact opposite. I mean, ever since elementary, we’ve been baited with the American Dream.
“If you work hard, you’ll go to a good school. And get a good job. And be able to build a good life.”
To a degree, sure, it may work. There will be times when your late-night studies and early-morning workouts pay off.
But what happens when your self-discipline isn’t good enough? When your mother is sick and your father is lying? When the world is looking for heroes and you’re entirely, undeniably, and insufficiently human?
What happens when you need God?
Finding God in Frailty
At 18 years-old, I thought I could keep God as my Sunday-morning God and make the world my oyster. I thought I could make my dreams come true and use Him like a lucky foot when big papers were due. But the past seven years have brought me to this place of total surrender—not because it was my first choice but because He was my second.
Loving God came out of needing God. When my plans dissolved into “I’ll be okay” texts and these hands didn’t produce the life I thought they could. Despite my impressive resume of college degrees and awards, healing and redemption were two things I couldn’t give myself.
Believe me, I tried. I tried to save myself, to pull up my bootstraps, and make my future my own. But without God on my side, living this life has been like writing with my less-dominant hand: awkward, fallible, and undeniably second best.
A Better Graduation Speech
I sat through the rest of the graduation feeling triggered in my spirit because I loved these students as my own. I wanted to send them off from Timmons Arena with some actually helpful advice. If given the chance, I would’ve run on stage, halted the processional music, and read to them a better graduation speech.
If given the chance, I would’ve said this:
You cannot do everything on your own. The world is not your oyster. And despite all the world’s encouragement, life will not turn out the way you want it to because you’ve got a degree and some grit.
The world will cheerlead you into more education, more professionalism, and more self-help books. But God knows you are incapable of saving yourself. He never expected you to conquer the world. He planned to do the conquering for you. And for some supernatural, unexplainable, indescribable reason, He thinks you—in your humanity—are enough.
I know there’s pressure on graduation speakers to give a message of encouragement, humor, and triumph. The goal is to make it to YouTube, right? But the secret to a fulfilling life isn’t something that’s waiting to be said. The secret to a fulfilling life was already recorded thousands of years ago when Moses read Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NLT):
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!
You can make this choice by loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and committing yourself firmly to him.
This is the key to your life.”
Featured Image by Pexels
In-Text Image 1 by Rachael Weisinger
In-Text Image 2 by Rachael Weisinger