Commencement Remarks to the Class of 2011
Raise your hand if you remember what the speaker at your high school graduation said. . .
I graduated from high school in 1976. I remember that Jimmy Carter was running for President and that our nation was celebrating its bi-centennial. And anytime I hear the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit,” . But I don’t remember even who spoke, much less what was said.
Thirty years from now you’ll remember something—that it rained cats and dogs during your rehearsal. Something will trigger that memory. I am sorry, for your sake, that it might be Lady Gaga or Katy Perry—I would give you Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers if I could. But whatever the triggers, I’m betting that something important you’ll remember is that you graduated in the Arab Spring. They’ll be talking about the Arab Spring long after they’ve stopped talking about your graduation. What is happening all over the Middle East is the rebirth of freedom, an idea that has a pretty long shelf life. And maybe, just maybe, you will remember that today at your graduation I talked about freedom?
Sometimes we think that freedom is being able to do whatever we want to do. If this is your view, then I’ll bet you’re looking forward to college: no curfew, no one taking attendance, no assignment you have to hand in at class tomorrow. There are problems with this idea of freedom, problems you’ll soon discover when you run through your monthly allowance or see your GPA. But there is something to this. I’ve had the privilege of traveling out of the country a few times in my life. And there’s a feelingof freedom that I get almost as soon as I get on the plane. The steward says, “Please turn off all electronic devices.” For me, without an international cell phone, this means that I am entering a long and sustained period of being disconnected. This is freedom for me. Freedom not because I can do anything I want to. Freedom because the conditions are right for me to do what I love to do: to settle in for a long, slow read--a rare privilege.
I know that not everyone is like me. Last fall, on a very long flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, the plane’s media computer went down and we were stuck for fourteen hours without any movies. People were going crazy. Me? I had Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and I was just fine. On a more recent flight, I noticed that they now have these signs that read, “Wi-Fi ONBOARD.” The guy next to me is saying, “Free at last!” and I’m thinking, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Freedom is the unfettered opportunity to thrive in accordance with your nature. If your nature is to put a tiny white ball in a hole 4.25 inches in diameter from 500 yards, then you will thrive in the hot sun or the cold of March walking the golf course. If your nature is to build things, then you will thrive down in the robotics skunk works under the Trinity gym. If your nature is to help young people at risk, then you will thrive when you are out until midnight mentoring someone in trouble. And if your nature is to teach, then you will thrive when you are sitting for hours with a Forest View Elementary student, trying to help her break the phonetic code. Notice that each of these exercises of freedom requires a good bit of discipline and self-sacrifice: hours of practice, painful workouts and trials, serious deprivation. Every one of these experiences of freedom means saying No to many other things. And one person’s freedom is another’s servitude, because we’re different: Imagine Ryan and Stu spending hours memorizing their lines for the play and Sarah Hand and Katie and Danie locked in the basement building a robot.
We on the faculty know something about who you are. It’s hard to hide at Trinity. For each of you freedom means something a little different. We pray that you will find the freedom to thrive, that you will feel God’s pleasure when you do what you were made to do.
Cookie, may you find your true freedom when you travel, when you cross horizons into other cultures, when you meet strangers and find them to be friends.
Sarah Bohn, may you find your true freedom as you learn to teach and as you learn what a powerful teacher you already are, just by your amazingly faithful presence.
Ryan, may you find your true freedom in the pursuit of happiness, with deep appreciation for what your parents have done for you, and with the quiet but winsome contentment that comes to one who loves to figure out how things work and how to make them work better.
Cobey, may you find your true freedom in solitude, a place where you can renew your mind and spirit, so that in your relationships with people you will have deep stores of wisdom to offer to the many who will want much from you.
Sean, may you find your true freedom and know that it is yours, discovered and not imposed, and may the poetry of your body and the lightening flashes of your mind join together to lead you to a deep contentment of soul.
Todd, may you find your true freedom as you welcome the influence of family, friends, and mentors, and as you earnestly offer your best as a sacrifice of love and service to others.
Reid, may you find your true freedom as you respect everyone who touches your life, and as you engage the world around you completely with a charm that, amazingly, serves others more than yourself.
Barrington, may you find your true freedom as you discover that the names you choose for yourself are also the names given by God, and as you absorb not only the thoughts of others but also the fact that people are drawn to you and want to know you.
Sarah Hand, may you find your true freedom as you emerge into the world to say “Yes” to God’s call, and may your voice always smile with good news.
Kate, may you find your true freedom as one shaped by those who are like you and also by those who are different, and may your smile and your art always find a way to stay together.
Thomas, may you find your true freedom by discovering how the complexity of your many pursuits (cooking, sports, music) are all focused in a simple way, like a long put, which breaks just as it should and drops right into the hole for a par.
Meagan, may you find your true freedom in community, in friendships that are full of purpose but also full of playfulness, taking everything in stride.
Lauren, may you find your true freedom by pushing yourself past high standards, confident that perfection is a gift and that humility is more powerful than even one of your amazing spikes.
Katie, may you find your true freedom in writing stories, keeping your mind open to truth wherever you find it and welcoming it into your life like a guest who brings splendid and unexpected gifts.
Scott, may you find your true freedom in your love for your family and in the way you quietly build bridges of care and concern for the people who surround you.
Camille, may you find your true freedom in relationships whose pattern is love, in life-giving routines that help you satisfy your many curiosities, with a humility that is the true glory underneath your remarkable gifts.
Preston, may you find your true freedom by arguing yourself and others into truth, even when it hurts, and may you always see that joy comes in the morning.
Taylor, may you find your true freedom in loving the marginalized and learning from them the unselfconscious joy of the moment.
Will, may you find your true freedom in adventure, in unexpected beauty, in music that is courageously true to who you are.
Danie, may you find your true freedom as you perform for an Audience of One, as you learn the joys of serving others, and as you find hope when hope seems to be gone.
Stu, may you find your true freedom that goes with the flow and follows the Truth where it leads you. And may your Stu-smile always be the smile of love.
Jack, may you find your true freedom in serving a country you love and in helping people at risk to find opportunities to share the blessings of that country.
Ruthie, may you find your true freedom when you connect with and care for people who are overlooked by so much of the world, especially the old and aging, and also the young.
We are all different, but we are all the same. You each have a unique nature; and you each share a human nature. The Arab Spring continues to hold our attention because we know that the young men and women armed with cell phones in Tunisia were seeking something that fits us all, whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever we believe: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the same way, there are two things you all share: mind and spirit.
You may know that there is a long tradition of describing the sort of education that Trinity has given you as an education in the Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Liberal” because it is free (not tuition-free, as your parents well know!); but free because it fits your nature. You were born to know, to understand, to think, to imagine, to create. Your humanities classes were designed to train you to read and write and think. Your science classes were designed to help you understand the physical and chemical and biological world. You will do many things with this knowledge: get into colleges (Congratulations!), pass your college courses, get into graduate schools, get jobs, serve on boards, run for office, write books, invent things, cure diseases. But I hope you do more than all this. I hope that you will be lifelong learners and always know the joy of understanding something for its own sake. It is a glory to “see” something with your mind. When it happens—and I hope you put yourself in places where it happens a lot—you will whisper to yourself, “Free at last!”
There is another way we are all alike. There is a huge cavern inside all of us—call it a longing, a desire, a need. It’s a God-shaped hole in your soul. All the ways we try to fill that hole are futile, like trying to fill a giant sieve with a thimble. Your soul is too large, too expansive, too intricate, too unique, too amazing to thrive even on the best that you can bring. The accomplishments of the Class of 2011 are astounding. But state championships and Think Awards and Wachovia Cups and scholarships and AP results and friendships and even the love of parents and teachers will run right through the sieve in the end. True freedom is the capacity to thrive in accordance with your nature. And your nature is to know and be known, not only by one another, by the One who made you. Only in Christ can you be truly free. This freedom is not earned or manufactured; it is given. You may not be ready to receive it today. But my prayer is that you will always remember, from your days at Trinity School, that it has been offered. If I could name the thing I would want you to remember from this day, it would be this: That Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
There is a hidden gem of a promise in the book of Revelation. Jesus says, “To him who overcomes, . . . I will give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” We call you Cookie, Sean, Scott, Taylor, Will, Ruthie, Meagan, Barrington. We call you the Class of 2011. But God promises to call you by a name no one knows but you and he. And when you hear that name, your heart will leap and you will say, “Yes, that’s exactly who I am.” Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty you will be free at last.
Thank you, Class of 2011, for all you have done to build this school. We love you. May God go with you wherever you go. And may he lead you back to us often.