Graduation 2013

On May 31, Trinity graduated its fourth class of seniors.  Twenty eight of them, the largest class we have had.  Below are my remarks at this important event.

Other graduation pictures and tributes can be seen on the most recent Column, which can be accessed as a flipbook.

Commencement Address
Trinity School
Fourth Commencement Exercises
Class of 2013
May 31, 2013

“Thanks or No Thanks”

Class of 2013, congratulations on your imminent graduation! 

Graduation speeches have a bad name, and we all know why.  Like you, I have sat through many tedious and taxing ceremonies, and this is the part where I always try to have something else to do.  (That is not an option for you this morning—sorry.)  Gary Trudeau, of Doonesbury fame, in his 1986 commencement speech at Wake Forest, said, “The chief function of the graduation speaker has always been to prevent graduating seniors from being released into the real world before they’ve been properly sedated.”  I attended a graduation this spring where this reality led the school to abandon the commencement address altogether—and I have to confess that it got me thinking. 

But I think it is important, especially here at Trinity, for us to bring words to this occasion.  For what does a classical Christian education mean, if not a facility for matching words with reality.  No easy task, but we must try.

My tack this morning is to keep this simple and clear.  I’m going to give you one piece of advice, only one.  I’m going to ask you to put that advice to work—right now.  And I’m going to practice what I preach.  And then I’m going to tell you why I think this simple advice gets at the heart of a vital truth about life.  And then we are going to give you your diplomas.

My Advice

Here is my advice: “Say ‘Thank You.’”  I told you it would be simple.  “Thank You.”

You are a remarkable class, a diverse class.  You have your differences, freely acknowledged, about important things.  We know, because we’ve been listening to you.  But this is an exhortation that makes sense for you all.  It doesn’t matter if you are religious or secular; athletic or robotic; evangelical, orthodox, neo-orthodox, post-modern, existentialist, humanist, transhumanist, or undecided—say, “Thank You.”

Write the Thank-You note.  Send the text.  Smile and nod.  Give a hearty handshake or a hug.  “Thanks” may not be very productive—it doesn’t get anything done—but it is one of the best things you can ever do. 

Come back to Trinity in a few years and tell your teachers “Thank You” for what they taught you.  You can tell them that today, but you might actually appreciate their work and devotion more in the future.  A few years ago, the Children’s Director at my church asked me to speak to the Sunday School teachers at a year-end tribute dinner.  As I was preparing my remarks, I remembered a certain man—I even remembered his name, Bo Shaeffer—who had taught me Sunday School in fifth grade.  It wasn’t until I went off to college that I became a disciple of Jesus, but when I thought back to that Sunday School class, I remembered that Mr. Schaeffer had planted seeds of truth in my soul that germinated many years later.  I sat down and wrote him a letter of thanks.  I think that’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Saying thanks keeps us from becoming self-absorbed.  It forces us to explore the possibilities for the positive.  And it is honest—none of us stands alone.  Isaac Newton, possessed of a mind as sharp as the sharpest of yours, said this: “If I have seen further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”  Thank you is a way to acknowledge this.

Your Turn

You don’t have to wait to take my advice.  Let’s do it now.

First, I’d like for you to tell this faculty “Thank You.”  At great cost, they have poured themselves into your intellectual, moral, and spiritual formation.  Whether you came to Trinity as a high schooler, or whether you are a Lifer, you have benefitted from the love and labor of this fine faculty.  Would you please stand up and take off your hats and tell them “Thank You”?

Second, it is a Trinity tradition for you to deliver a Thank You note to your parents.  You have those ready at hand.  Would you please find your parents, give them the note and a hug, and say “Thank You”?

Our Turn

Now I’d like to practice what we are preaching to you.  I’d like to say “Thank You” to you all, the Class of 2013, on behalf of the entire school.  Your contribution to our school has been immense.  You are one class out of many souls, e pluribus unum, like the hands on the wallboard you painted in the fall.  And you are twenty-eight, for whom we are individually grateful.  In each of you we see something that no one else brings to Trinity School.  Trinity is Trinity because of you, collectively and severally.

Chris.  Thank you for sharing your angel-quick, probing mind with us all, for being willing to be, sometimes, the only one in the room with a divergent opinion, and to offer it in dead earnest, without rancor, accusation, or defensiveness; and to submit your own opinion to the court of reason.  And thank you for emerging from your brooding thought many times to grace us with your exquisite smile.

Todd.  Thank you for the passion and gracefulness with which you play every sport you take on.  Thank you for letting us watch you drive yet another one to the fence in left-center field and run the bases like a gazelle.  And thank you for caring deeply about relationships—with teachers and coaches especially--and being willing to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Tyler.  Thank you for hanging in there even though it was tough and lonely, even though you learn differently from others, and for teaching us all to celebrate that difference as a unique angle on the body of Christ here at Trinity.  Thank you for having the courage to speak about your uniqueness in your Capstone project.

Luke.  Thank you for coming back to us your junior year; thank you for having the courage to follow God’s call and leave us for the DR in the fall of your senior year; thank you for bringing back to us what you learned, showing us all what it means not to be served but to serve, for growing into a man of God right before our eyes.

Sam.  Thank you for playing for us and leading us in worship.   Thank you for finding your own voice in song and for sharing with us your heart for Christ.  Thank you for not caring whether you got the credit, so long as the band played beautifully for God’s glory.

Grace.  Thank you for showing us the meaning of your name, for surprising us with your kindness and forgiveness, for including everyone, for learning to live with an expectation that God would do something unexpected, undeserved, and lovely in your own life.

Alex.  Thank you for being playful and mischievous among us, with the improv group, with questions and ideas in class, with a wry announcement in Cornerstone.  Thank you for those unforgettable Jazz moments.  Thank you for reminding us to take ideas and others seriously, but not ourselves too seriously, and God most seriously of all.

Lindsay.  Thank you for believing in redemption, for listening hard for those voices of beauty and wholeness in your own heart, and for celebrating the hope of redemption in the smallest things, like the flower vases for the Spring Formal, and in your exceptional art.

Garrett.  Thank you for swimming your heart out.  And for the school store.  Thank you for admitting when you needed help and for asking for forgiveness without making excuses.  And thank you for having the courage and perseverance to finish and to return.

Jenna.  Thank you for discovering your gift for teaching right before our very eyes, over at Forest View Elementary.  Thank you for teaching me what a DKDK moment is—when you Don’t Know What You Don’t Know—for returning to Trinity after a transformative term in NYC, and for reminding us all that leaving Trinity can be one of the best parts of the experience here.

Ren.  Thank you for pursuing your passions in Robotics and for searching in the world of programming for hints of the Divine.  Thank you for fighting ferociously for the rebound.  Thank you for being yourself without bowing to the expectations of others, for finding your own way as a scholar, a scientist, an athlete, a believer.

Christian.  Thank you for exploring your creative side among us, for writing a graphic novel to explore your identity and calling, for creating all those dramatic plays for the Augustine students at Forest View, for sharing with us your sardonic self, and for never giving up trying to hit a three on the basketball court.

Arwen.  Thank you for coming to Trinity late in your high school career and jumping completely into the Trinity experience.  Thank you for nurturing the love of learning—Anatomy and Physiology, quilting, puzzles, Robotics—even as you sought to make yourself competitive in a most competitive field of engineering.  And thank you for our faithful prayers for all your classmates.

Michael.  Thank you for your quiet (except when you were the Voice of the Lions!) ways of serving us: Running the soundboard during Worship, and even taking over the sound for the final Grandparents’ Day Concert in the Spring.  Thank you for serving on the Honor Council, and for being steadfast for truth, especially the Truth of God’s Word.

Josh.  Thank you for being part of an extraordinary Robotics team that makes us all believe in team in the best sense.  Thank you for loving everyone on the team, even especially those whose gifts were different and who by their presence made the team what it was.  Thank you for being honest about your own questions and refusing to be boxed into any answers you can’t affirm with all your heart.

Bryn.  Thank you for keeping your bar high, for moving it higher, and for pursuing excellence.  Thank you for listening to the stories of others and searching for ways to make faithful sense of the hard parts of your own story.  Thank you for not giving up on Trinity, on God, on any of us, even though you might have wanted to at times.  Thank you for coming back on Day 2 of Second Grade, and every day after that.

Bekah.  Thank you for joining us for your final year, for leaving a school and friends you loved dearly to join a school that was different.  Thank you for your tender heart, for your passion for Christ, and for sharing with us the gift He has given you for writing well and showing us the beauty that is so ancient and so new. 

Jesse.  Thank you for the way you purse your lips and shrug your shoulders when you have something important (and wonderfully critical) to say, for sharing with us your brilliance in a way that is unpretentious and self-effacing, and for being such an important part of the Robotics A-Team.  Thank you for your questions, which have taken us down many roads we wouldn’t have travelled.

Kelsey.  Thank you for that smile of yours—I can see it now.  Thank you for single-handedly leading the senior class through its journey toward a generous and altruistic senior gift.  Thank you for sharing openly and vulnerably about your own struggles of faith with the death of a close friend, but in a way that calls us all to meet God with our truth-seeking questions.

Kellie Schaefer.  Thank you for showing us skill and devotion on the court, thank you for loving your family so well, thank you for giving yourself unselfishly to the work and the kids in the Dominican Republic.  In the words of your Augustine tutee, “Thank you for being the best Kellie that I have ever had.”

Sarah.  Thank you for growing in Christ over the years, right before our eyes, through deep disappointments, to become a young woman with a facile theological mind.  Thank you for your ready, quick wit and your deep understanding.  Thank you for turning “It’s Greek to me” upside down.

Jacob.  Thank you for all the villains you have been on stage.  And off stage, thank you for your earnest passion for the Gospel, for your tenacious quest to understand and share God’s Word, for the way you love your family (even especially your sister!), for speaking up in class, and for good, never-ending conversations outside of class.

Hayes.  In absentia.  Thank you for serving on the Honor Council, for leading on the soccer field and on the basketball court.  Thank you for being a fierce competitor who has also the gentleness of Christ, a quiet but passionate leader.

Abby.  Thank you for letting the light of your joy shine among us for all these years.  Thank you for brightening up our days and showing us the beauty of a cheerful countenance and a true friend.

Zoe.  Thank you for finding your own way, marching to the beat of God’s Spirit where you have heard it.  Thank you for your quiet but strong way of saying, “This is what I think.”  Thank you for pursuing the truth by balancing and weighing alternatives. 

Harrison.  Thank you for being one of the Three but completely Yourself.  Thank you for loving your family so well.  And thank you for your playful way with the Augustine students, making them smile and wanting to come back every time.  Thank you for seeking out the meaning of Romans 8:28 right through some really tough times.

Savannah.  Thank you for your contagious laugh.  Thank you for sticking your head in front of so many soccer cleats.  Thank you for being your own inimitable self, in the hallways, on the field and court, and in class. Thank you for leaving it all on the court.  Thank you for laying your cards out on the table and saying what you think. 

Mitch.  Thank you for your still waters that run deep, for your love of old cars, for your quest to make some sense of the hiddenness of a God you believe in, for the dependable work you always do, and for your wonderful affability. 

Class of 2013, thank you for being who you are.  We mean it.  We love you and we will miss you.

Why Thank You Is Important

Some will think that my advice is cliché, a platitude, a Hallmark card. 

The difference between a platitude and a profundity is not always in their content, but in what we do with them.  If we let them rattle around in our brains like a dry, unwatered, unplanted seed—that's a platitude.  But if we plant them in our hearts and let them grow into soul-truths, that’s a profound life lesson.

I think that learning to say “Thanks” is one of the most profound and important habits to be formed in us.  It is a mark of a life well-lived.  It makes for greater happiness—in ourselves and in others.  It protects us from cynicism and snarkiness.  It keeps us from becoming overly focused on ourselves and narcissistic.  In short, I recommend it highly for the rest of your life.  Unless you learn to say, “Thank You,” you will never be really happy.

And if this is true in this present life, how much more in the life to come.  Saying “Thank You” is the mark of something deeply spiritual and at the heart of the one who understands the grace and glory of God.

We see this truth in the passage from 2 Corinthians, which Charlie read.  Paul says that the result of the generosity he is urging is, ultimately, “thanksgiving to God.”  Our eternal blessedness consists in large part of saying, simply, “Thanks!”

Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost understood this well.  Caught in a cosmic battle, he reflects on and perhaps even laments his own unwillingness to say these simple words, “Thank You.”  Listen:

Yet all his good prov’d ill in me,
And wrought but malice; lifted up so high
I feigned subjection, and thought one step higher
Would set me highest, and in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burthensome, still paying, still to owe;
Forgetful what from him I still received,
And understood not that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and discharged; what burden then?

I suspect we’ve all been on the receiving end of a great gift, one we didn’t really deserve.  And the greater the gift, the greater the debt.  A friend once bought me a very expensive road bike—I fell all over myself and him saying thank you, until he told me to stop already.  Today, you graduates have been given the gift of an education by your parents and the school.  How will you ever be able to say “Thank You” sufficiently?  Will you ever be able to extract yourself from the debt immense of endless gratitude?  You will not.

Perhaps the greatest gift, the one that may seem most “burthensome,” is the gift of forgiveness.  We all, I am sorry to say, know something about this—I am not talking about the burden of forgiving now; I am talking about the burden of being forgiven.  When we wrong someone and are granted forgiveness, we know that we are always and ever both “indebted and discharged.”

Graduates, the good news in Jesus Christ is that you owe him everything, that he has given you a gift so immense and free that you can never repay; the only payment you can give, the only one asked of you, is to say, “Thank You.”  “A grateful mind by owing owes not, but still pays, at once indebted and discharged.”  What I want for you is that you will learn the song of Thanksgiving, for you are being called to sing it forever and ever.  It goes on and on.  There is no end to His mercy, no limit to his undeserved blessings.  In the end, there will be only two kinds of people: Those who say to God, “Thanks,” and those who say, “No Thanks.”  Don’t return the ticket.  Keep it, for there is a Day coming when the best thing you will be able to say is “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.”  I think it would be wise for us all to start practicing that eternal Eucharist right now.  Say “Thank You.”

I wish you the best, all of you.  I hope you remember this place fondly and come back often.  We love you.  Godspeed to the Class of 2013. 

And Thank You Very Much.


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