Dear Graduate, It’s Not About You

 South Christian High School Graduation. Class of 2007 on the right. Class of 2015 on the left. Crazy how time flies. 

South Christian High School Graduation. Class of 2007 on the right. Class of 2015 on the left. Crazy how time flies. 

Dear Graduate,

It’s not about you.

I’m sorry for all of the times you have been fed fluffy lines to make you think it is. Probably with the intention of being “inspirational.” You know, those kinds of lines written on posters with pictures of Michael Jordan or baby kittens or Snoopy on them?

 Byron Center Christian School Kindergarten Graduation. Class of 1995.

Byron Center Christian School Kindergarten Graduation. Class of 1995.

“Chase your dreams.”

“If you believe it, you can achieve it.”

 “Never say ‘can’t.’”

But it’s not about you.

I sat in a graduation ceremony a few years ago, and listened to the keynote speaker try to convince a group of vulnerable eighteen-year-olds that it was indeed, all about them.

The punch line of his speech literally felt like being punched in the face, and went something like this:

“Don’t let any obstacles keep you from achieving your goals. Take down anything or anyone who gets in your way.”

And that’s how the speech went on. And on. And on.

With the idea that you should “believe in yourself” in order to accomplish great things in life. With the idea that this world is filled with obstacles, and if you simply take them down and forget that “them” might also refer to living, breathing, human beings, then you can do whatever you are creative enough to think of. With the idea that life and the sum of its meaning are about you, and your dreams, and your accomplishments, and everything you are able to obtain and achieve.

Graduate, you know it doesn't take many Sunday School classes to debunk this warped theology.

But we hear this kind of selfish message all the time. Not only in the world, but even subtly {and not so subtly} in our own Christian circles. {Did I mention this graduation speech was given at a Christian school?}

 BCCS 8th Grade Graduation. Class of 2003. A little too much purple paisley in this picture. And  way  too much "Awkward."

BCCS 8th Grade Graduation. Class of 2003. A little too much purple paisley in this picture. And way too much "Awkward."

I thought the ceremony was ruined. These graduates had just been fed the “I Have a Dream and I Will Take Down Anyone Who Gets in My Way” speech, and now they were going to be sent out into the world to become self-seeking, power-hungry monsters.

But then the Valedictorian stood up. And she reminded her classmates and everyone in the crowd: “It’s not about you.”

And that’s how her speech went on. And on. And on. 

With the idea that Christ humbled Himself as an obedient servant, so we should do the same. With the idea that we were put on this earth to love God and our neighbor and the “least of these.” With the idea that it’s great to have dreams and goals and passions, but it’s important to view those dreams and goals and passions as an act of worship to our Creator.

I could have cried. I didn't want it to end.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. {Philippians 2:3-4}

Graduate, it’s not about you.

It’s not about your grades. Your awards. Your trophies. Your popularity. Your beauty. Your degree. Your job. Your money. Your stuff. It’s not about a lot of the things that the world around you tries to make it about. Especially not at the cost of “taking down” the people around you.

 Dordt College Graduation. Class of 2011.

Dordt College Graduation. Class of 2011.

Graduate, your life is about something and Someone so much bigger than you. Your life and your story are about God and who He is and what He is doing in you and through you.

“There are two myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they’re about us, and the second is that because they’re about us, they don’t matter. But they’re not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we’re telling the story of who God is.” – Savor, Shauna Niequist

Your life and your story are about the gift of grace you receive in your heart through Christ, the transformation of your life and actions by the Holy Spirit, and the faith you cling to as the Father carries you through life's twists and turns.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God. {Philippians 1:3-6, 9-10}

Graduate, it’s not about you. But the beautiful thing is this: that even though it’s not about you, even though you might not be the main character in your story, your supporting role and active participation have the potential to be a beautiful expression of worship and gratitude to the One who it is all about.

This is where you come in.

You and your gifts, your talents, your uniqueness, your personality.

You and your working, your studying, your training, your creating, discovering, learning, designing, dreaming. Your serving, giving, helping, changing, improving, and loving.

They are your acts of worship, not a means to your own selfish gain. They are your opportunities to show gratitude to your Savior, not a mode of becoming lord and master over your own life. They are your chances to serve others and be a light in this dark world, not a challenge to “take people down” when they get in your way.

So dear Graduate, whether you’re headed for the work force, or headed for more studying, or whether you’re somewhere in between or before or after, remember that it’s not about you.

But also remember that when what you are doing and who you are becoming are fueled by a heart of worship and selflessness and “Christ-first” attitude, the world is a better place for it.

Grace and Peace,