Our Letter, You Graduates

“You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.” 2 Corinthians 3:2-3

Dear World,

We give you the Trinity Class of 2016.  Ready or not, here they come.

They can sing a stageworthy “I Dreamed a Dream.”  They can do independent studies of Quantum Mechanics.  They can create phone apps for Androids and do novel gene research at Duke.  They have coached middle school basketball, cross-country, choreography, and chorus--and soccer in Costa Rica.  They have built a motorized dirt bike and rebuilt a 1969 Mustang.  They designed an illustrated guide for pediatric patients at Duke’s Eye Center.  They hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail, survived in the cold woods, and made a documentary of a pilgrimage in Spain.  On their own, entirely outside of any school assignment, they have trapped hydrogen in a balloon, written a program to simulate planetary motion, raised tens of thousands of dollars for a school in South Africa, read Borges, Wiesenthal’s The Sunflower, and all 1,059 pages of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest.  They will make you laugh dancing like Ballou and singing “Bare Necessities,” and they will make you smile dancing like Bert and Mary Poppins.  They can write and direct their own play; and they bring that play to life with their own brilliant acting.  They have done street evangelism, have tutored homeless fifth graders, have befriended a sixty-year old who is learning to read, organized a 5K, and met with congressional staff to advocate for the deaf community.  They can bake and cook, they can design a line of clothing, they can play the sax and the violin.  And they can swim themselves into a championship.  And when they come together to sing acapella . . . how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters sing together in unity!

They came to us as children and youth.  But they are not children any more.  They are young adults, coming into their own, smarter and more talented than their teachers sometimes, with minds of their own and gifts that came from somewhere else and blossomed under our noses while they were here.

We recommend them to you.  We would take them back in a heartbeat, if we could.  But they have outgrown us here, and it is time for them to move on.  We hope you enjoy them.  We at Trinity surely have, and we will miss them very much.  Please take good care of them.  

Trinity School

You all are very familiar with letters of recommendation.  This excellent faculty has written them for you, as you applied to college.  You will probably be asking some of us for such letters as you apply for jobs and internships and graduate schools in the future, and you will eventually be writing these for others, as you find yourselves in positions of influence in your lives.   

They go way back.  The Apostle Paul talks about letters of recommendation in the passage from 2 Corinthians that Alyvia read.  Paul himself wrote such letters--in Romans 16, he is providing Phoebe, a church leader, with just such a letter to the church at Rome.  And the book of Philemon is essentially a letter of recommendation from Paul to his brother in Christ, Philemon, on behalf of the slave Onesimus.  

This passage in 2 Corinthians came to me all of a sudden, on the morning of April 19.  I was standing in the back of the Great Room for the last Trinity Parent Organization meeting of the year.  Five of you were presenting a précis of your Capstone for the parents.  (Abigail, Rachel, Ryan, and the hiking bros Peter and William)  I was enjoying very much hearing about the things you learned and how you learned them, and I was watching the parents enjoying this just as much as I was.  And it occurred to me how different this year is from the early years of our Upper School.  In the beginning, we had nothing to show except our dreams and visions.  Just the talking Head . . . master.  Oh, we waxed eloquent about them, I can assure you.  But I kept waiting for someone in the back of the room to raise his hand and say, “How do you know this works?  Show me the money.”  You guys showed them the money at the last TPO meeting.  As I stood in the back and listened proudly, it came to me: You yourselves are our letters to the world.

Anyone can talk about education, but doing it is harder, much harder.  I am deeply grateful to God that in 2016, ten years since we launched our Upper School, we have 40 amazing letters to write to the world, letters that show what a classical Christian rich and unhurried education looks like.  You are our letter of recommendation, and we are proud to seal you up and put a stamp on you and send you out there for the world to read.  Which is just what Paul said about the Corinthians.

Sort of.  After that meeting, I actually sat down to read 2 Corinthians again, and it very nearly ruined my graduation speech.  For what Paul actually says is that he’s not that into letters of recommendation; and that the only letter of recommendation he’s interested in is very different from the notion that the Corinthians are his letter to the world.  What Paul actually says, I want to translate for you, graduates: “More important than any actual letters of recommendation that we could (and will) write for you; more important than any letters of recommendation (even your own lives as such “letters”) that you could write for us at Trinity, is another letter.  It is the letter that Christ is writing on our hearts.  Paul says, “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts”--that would be in your case the hearts first and foremost of Trinity’s teachers and leaders and your own parents.  And that letter is you.  

This letter that you are, from Christ on our hearts, keeps a promise we made to you and your parents when you first came to Trinity: that you would be known and loved.  I hope that you have no doubt of this, especially after last night’s Senior Banquet.  Each of those tributes read by a faculty member was a glimpse into the letter that Christ has written on our hearts as we have taught and coached and known and loved you these many years.  That kind of love never dies; it will never be wasted; it is hidden with Christ in God forever and ever.

Let me put this another way: You are an amazingly gifted class--I don’t mind saying that the faculty struggled more to choose the recipients of the awards for your class than for any class that has come through this school.  You are so gifted!  But it is not primarily your gifts that will stay with us, but your graces.  That would be the surprising, better-than-we-deserve way you have made us glad.  In every one of you, we see Jesus Christ--his truth, goodness, and beauty.  Every one of you has been God’s grace to us, and I speak for the entire faculty when I say that it is a profound privilege to have known and loved and taught you.  

Dear World,

We know that this Class of 2016 is an amazingly gifted group, and we are sure that they will accomplish great things out in the wide world and acquit our school admirably.  But if you want to know what is most important about them, read here, on our hearts, these letters, written not in ink, but by the Spirit of the living God:

  • Michael’s humble way of being so smart;
  • William’s affable knack for being the first to speak;
  • Davis’ quiet pursuit of servant leadership;
  • Allison’s way of listening well, even when she may have the most to say;
  • Libby’s penchant for twisting gravity into levity and making the whole cross country bus laugh;
  • Jackson’s remarkable work ethic and determination to succeed;
  • Ellie’s whimsical love of gummy bears, for French pastry, her minion voice, and the artistry of her deep, quiet faith;
  • Cassie’s loyalty to her friends, to the Yearbook staff; to her family.
  • William’s gentle way of walking through the world, and his beard;
  • Connor’s polite and respectful gift of being EveryLion, a model of all things Trinity.
  • Rachel’s sincere greeting: “How are you and your family doing?”
  • Kayli’s spiritual leadership and the way she shares her organizational skills to help others who need it;
  • Leslie’s habit of helpfulness and her kindness to us all;
  • Mikael’s calm and collected presence on the court and in class, his soft hands, tender heart, tough as nails;
  • Gina’s generous tutoring of younger students;
  • Montae’s grateful opening of his own heart to his friends and even his teachers;
  • Isabel’s sense of style and poise, her gentle personality, and the line of Trinity clothing that she designed and sold;
  • Anna’s smile, and the gleam in her eye on the cross country course or in math class;
  • Peter’s love for God’s Word and passion for sharing it;
  • Abigail’s strong leadership, her integrity, all the times she has gotten us organized, and all the songs she has sung for us;
  • B-Lo’s grateful attitude, his respectful demeanor, and the amazing heights he has scaled in his learning--and his fashion sense;
  • Ashley’s probing, creative, and persistent questions, and her deep love for learning;
  • Jack’s insatiable quest to understand things and all the homework he has given to us faculty in the questions he has asked us;
  • Ryan’s infectious way of making us all glad to listen to him talk;
  • Matthew’s easy laugh and smile, and the pop-up book that still lives in Dr. Utz’s office;
  • Mary’s genuinely happy (in Jesus) smile, her sympathy for friends, and her care for those on the margins;
  • Eli’s left-handed, booming way of inviting us all to have a great laugh;
  • Riley’s generosity with her camera, so that all our stories can be told;
  • Barnes’ laid-back, encyclopedic questions for us and for the world, all from a heart that cares deeply;
  • David Proano’s tenacious devotion to fixing things, especially things robotic;
  • Nico’s intrepid honesty, his fleet feet, and his way with the tenor sax;
  • Dowdy’s habit of thinking before he speaks and the heart he brings to all that he does, especially his swimming and jazz band;
  • Grant’s organizational skills and efficiency, and the way he manages the soundboard invisibly but flawlessly and selflessly in the back of the room;
  • Philip’s curiosity and wit, and the courage he has shown in the face of unimaginable hardship;
  • David Stewart’s Eagle Scout-like responsibility and diligence, his independent study that just keeps on going;
  • Erin’s high standards and devotion to quality, the gift of several fine Yearbooks, and really excellent Upper School community events;
  • Corky’s wide-open way of inviting us all into the Great Dance where the Father, Son, and Spirit are weaving the kind of joy we see on her face;
  • Andersen’s brave persistence, and the delightful way he steps into a room, says something about Texas, and greets us all warmly.
  • Wade’s loud but hospitable exhortation to us all to do justice, and his skill with the fiddle when we worship together;
  • Chandler’s courage to try something new (like cross country), find a new gear, and her singing with friends in Mrs. Ray’s room.

Class of 2016, you are Christ’s letter, written on our hearts.    

And there is one more letter to mention, which is not something you put a stamp on, but more like the letters we write on the page--the kind of letters our first graders learned this year.  This letter Paul contrasts with the Spirit:
“The letter kills but the Spirit gives life.”  

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret.  I believe that a Christian school can be a place of great good and blessing in the lives of its students, and I hope and pray that Trinity has been that for you, and that the further you get from it the more you will appreciate that.  But I know that Christian schools can be places where some people learn to have nothing much to do with the Gospel of Jesus.  They’ve had enough.  They’ve heard it all.  They’re frankly a little bored with, tired of, or disillusioned with the Christian message.  This we know, and this pains us.  It means that for all the good that Trinity has been in the lives of some of you, the school is really just part of the letter that is dead.

That’s how I was when I graduated from high school a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  I even carried away with me a Bible that I had underlined and highlighted, but I had no idea what those words meant.  They were dead to me.  But I’m eternally grateful that in college some fraternity brothers read the Gospel of Mark with me and the good news about Jesus came to life for me.  And so I know that God is not done with any of us yet.

I pray for every one of you: that if you are leaving here with the Spirit-given love for Jesus in your hearts, you will go on, as Paul says, from glory to glory, in college and in life beyond.  We pray that Christ will write on your hearts the same gracious letter of love for God and others that he is writing on ours, through you.  And if you are leaving here unsure of or opposed to or disinterested in Christ, we pray you will meet someone or read something or learn something or remember something that will be a life-giving tug back to the heart of Jesus, who loves you more than you could ever imagine.

But all of you, wherever you are, wherever you go and do, wherever you are with Jesus, will always be written on our hearts, a living epistle. If someone ask us to show them the heart of Trinity School, I would say, “Go ask our faculty how they loved the Class of 2016.”  Come back often and let us read again and anew that letter written on our own hearts.

And there is still one more letter--seems like there is no end of letters this morning.  This is a letter that you have written.  I’d like to ask you to take them to your parents, letters of gratitude for the gift of being able to learn and grow in this place.  Parents, I hope these are letters that bring life to you, written by those who are themselves the letter on your own hearts.

Thanks be to God.  Non nobis.


phyllis lloyd said…
i am speechless but full of gratitude for the blessing of having been involved just a smidgen in Trinity School for the last six years. I suppose it is in part because our granddaughter is one of the graduates that i am so touched by your graduation talk. It was fantastic. I have told you that i wish you'd publish a compilation of each year's graduation talks as i can't remember what you've said, but i remember that every year as i listen, it is wonderful. :-}
i pray you and Des are having a fantastic walk on the Camino de Santiago and at the end of the six months sabbatical you return to Trinity refreshed and renewed.

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