Veritas Speech and Debate Club
Senior Graduation Charge
June 4, 2016
Mark R. Schneider
Parents, extended family, friends, and well-wishers, but especially to our graduates, good morning.
I was asked to give a charge to commemorate this, the conclusion of your high school experience. Only I’m still not quite sure what a “charge” is and neither, it seems, is Google. Yes, I checked. But I knew it ought not to be taken lightly…
For as Uncle Bilbo said to his young nephew:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” (J.R.R. Tolkein, LOTR)
So before stepping out into this thing called adulthood, allow me to charge you with a few things I think might help you keep your feet.
And I’ll begin by reminding you, as if any of you needed it, of the Apostle Paul’s speech at the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill. Appealing to what the Greeks there referred to as the UNKNOWN GOD, Paul informed them that from one man that same God… “…made every nation and tribe, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation…” (Acts 17:26)
And what was true of the Greeks is no less true of each one of us today, but more particularly, each one of you. Do you believe this?
Your place in history, the families you were raised in, the particular passions and talents you possess, the opportunities that have come your way, and the fact that you are American citizens and not – as far as I know – Tunisian, Fijian, or Greek are not accidents. Neither is it an accident that you were raised by parents who took, let us say, a rather personal interest in your education.
It’s no accident that most of you, to one degree or another, were educated in the classical tradition, both feared and revered for its rigor. So you might recall how Shakespeare defined education in Henry VI, Part II: where he called it the, “wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” And your wings, because of Providence and the partnership of your parents are already more developed than most.
1) Which brings me to my first charge. Be grateful! Cultivate thankfulness as a virtue.
As habits of the mind go, few have greater power to produce lasting goodness and joy. Do you know that despair is a stranger to the thankful in heart? But unlike joy, which is an effect, gratefulness is a choice of the will. So is bitterness, a habit I urge you to avoid at all costs. No one escapes pain and disappointment. But as the wise have learned, make gratefulness your friend and joy will always come along for the ride. As our Lord encouraged us: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33)
2) My second charge is one you’ve no doubt heard before, but at this juncture in your young lives merits repeating, which is this: Find your calling, and pursue it.
The world will always try and pull you into its center of gravity, which is the pursuit of power, pleasure or security. Resist it.
You’ve heard the expression “do what you love and you’ll love what you do”? A cliché, I know, but only because it’s so true.
Each one of you has some unique gift or passion, perhaps more than one. What are you good at? What is it that makes you tick? If you’re not sure, it’s likely that thing you naturally keep coming back to, that people recognize in you as a strength, a passion that drives you.
The French Philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, said: “There is no one who, if he listens to himself, does not discover a pattern all his own, a ruling pattern.”
Whatever your pattern, God meant it for you alone. It’s His gift to you.
But neither should you fret if your life’s mission doesn’t come to you right away, or, if it does, has little to do with how you end up paying the bills. The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker, but that was hardly his vocation. Moses was eighty before his true life’s mission was revealed. And who believes that the Lord’s ambition for His life was to make furniture?
So, if there’s fork in the road and you’re not sure which direction to go, with trust in Providence and joy in your heart, get on with the business of life. Pick a path and start walking. If you’ve committed your way to God, you can go with confidence. As the writer of Proverbs assures us: A man’s mind plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps(16:9).
And that’s good news!
3) The third and final charge is the simplest to understand and the hardest to do: Which is to persevere in the face of difficulty.
While talent provides an opportunity for success, it can never guarantee it. The world is filled with brilliant people who never live up to their potential because the way forward proved too difficult for them, while people of common ability are often seen to aspire to great heights.
In her bestselling book, Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth defines that term as a “combination of passion and perseverance in the pursuit of a long-term goal.” And she gives plenty of examples:
“Most people [she writes] would think of John Irving as a gifted wordsmith. He is the author of best-selling novels celebrated for their Dickensian plots, including “The Cider House Rules” and “The World According to Garp.” But Mr. Irving has severe dyslexia, was a C-minus English student in high school and scored 475 out of 800 on the SAT verbal test.”
Or how about the New Yorker’s cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, who submitted 2000 drawings to the magazine before even one was accepted. 2000! Or the actor Will Smith, who explains his success as follows: “The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill…If we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”
In a study of Ivy League undergrads, Duckworth found that “the smarter students were” – as measured by SAT scores – “the less gritty they were,” a fact the nation’s Military Academies and Navy Seal trainers know too well.
“Enthusiasm is common,” Duckworth writes, “Endurance is rare.”
In his speech to the Sorbonne in 1910, Theodore Roosevelt, a man intimately acquainted with struggle and heartbreak, described what he called, “The Man In the Arena.” Here’s a passage from that speech I expect some of you may recognize.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; [No, the credits goes to the man] who actually strives to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
It doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are, there are no easy paths in life, no smooth mountains, no storm-free seas. Struggle and criticism will always be pre-requisites to great accomplishment.
And what’s true in the arena of this life is even more so where the stakes are of infinitely more strategic value. It’s not for nothing that the writer of Hebrews recounts the Hall of Faith, those heroes, from Abraham to Rahab, whose chronicled lives bear testament to endurance under hardship.
But the inheritance they achieved is no less available – indeed it’s expected – for each one of you. For as James declares in his Epistle: Happy are you who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, you will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
There you have it. Three charges, Google notwithstanding: 1) Be Grateful, 2) Pursue Your Calling, 3) Persevere.
So, as you set out on your grand adventures, I leave you with those immortal words of Bilbo Baggins:
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”
(J.R.R. Tolkein, LOTR)
No. You cannot say. But we, your families, friends, along with all those who love you will watch, encourage, and rejoice in your progress.