The Things You’ll Carry: Commencement Address 2011
Trinity Christian College
17 December 2011
Dr. Bill Boerman-Cornell, assistant professor of education
Dear Parents, Friends, Faculty, Staff, and members of Trinity Christian College’s class of 2011,
Moving day, 1988. The U-haul truck is parked in front of the house I grew up in. Inside the van is everything I have ever owned: books, bike, clothes, desk, and so on.
I am standing in the driveway with my Mom and Dad. College is over, and I am about to drive to Chicago where I will be living. My dad, hoping to equip me for anything life might throw at me, has filled up about a third of the van with lumber, tools, more lumber, hardware, some 2 by 4s, a wood tabletop, additional lumber, plumbing supplies, a couple of sheets of plywood, and various other things he found in the garage. I am sure that he knows, at least since my pathetic attempt to build a birdhouse in junior high, that I am incapable of making anything with lumber other than firewood. It is okay, though, I know this is his way of saying that he loves me.
It is at this point that my Mom begins offering advice – lots of advice – on how to deal with everything from the common cold to defective merchandise. She covers basic information like laundry and cooking, and also more obscure issues, like water safety during electrical storms, and the importance of seeking professional help when attempting to fix a toaster. She continues to offer advice for a long time. This too is okay, because I know it is her way of saying that she loves me and also that she is afraid that she might have missed something somehow during all the advice she has given me over the past two decades. Much of what she is saying, she had told me before. But I listen and I nod and finally, I hug them both, and get in the truck. My mother, however, continues to offer advice – about travelling, hygiene, comparison shopping for fruits and vegetables, and the importance of not buying knives from door-to-door salesmen. After some time has passed, I, still nodding, shift the truck into reverse and back out of the driveway. My mother walks along with the truck, reminding me to get a regular check-up, to dress warmly in the winter, to take it easy when shoveling snow, to brush my teeth after every meal, and to call home regularly. I say goodbye, and pull away from the house I have grown up in. With my mother still shouting advice through the open window, I drive off down the block and out of the town I grew up in.
The position my parents were in on that day is the position that your professors find themselves in today, myself included. So I am afraid that, for just a couple of minutes today, I am going to shout advice through the open window of your moving van before you pull away. I would give you a pile of lumber, (I still have some left over from what my dad gave me twenty some years ago), but I am hoping the advice might be more useful.
Philippians 4:8 says ~ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I want to concentrate on the end of that message. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. It is my hope, and the hope of the rest of the faculty and staff, that you will not merely be good teachers, social workers, nurses, historians, biologists, church workers, business people, musicians, writers, public relations people, actors, administrators, ecologists, mathematicians, historians, counselors, criminologists, chemists, IT specialists, coaches, artists, designers, missionaries, or whatever calling you answer . We also hope that you will think about being what you are called to be and that you will lead others to help make a difference in your workplace, church, local community, and other aspects of God’s creation.
So picture yourself behind the wheel of a large truck. Then picture your professors, all of them, still wearing their academic regalia, running alongside that truck. Got that in your mind? Good. Now, this is the window of your truck. As I am running along, I am going to speak for all of us, at least until I am out of breath.
Just like my mom’s advice, none of this is new. You have heard these refrains from your professors again and again, but we think they are important, and we are going to repeat them one more time. So here we go…
Everything always comes back to our relationship to God and his creation.
All the decisions we make, the way we are thankful for the grace by which we enjoy the world, the direction we turn to in times of trouble, even the way we see the world around us, all of it relates back to God. This affects the way we do our jobs, the way we take out the trash, the way we spend money, what we eat, how we hang out with our friends, how we raise our children, where we choose to live, how we root for our kids’ little league team, who we vote for, how we work for justice in our communities, how we facebook, the way we handle money, the music we listen to, the compassion we show for those around us, how we shop, who we marry, and pretty much anything else you can think of. All of it comes back to our relationship to God. And that relationship is a relationship of gratefulness.
He made us,
He forgave us,
He died on the cross to save us from our sins.
And so, we live our lives not out of obligation or out of fear, but, in our best moments, out of a deep, deep gratefulness.
This also means that you can approach your life with confidence and without fear. Again and again God tells us in the Bible to not be afraid. Sometimes life will seem scary. So how can I say that you should not be afraid? Well, for the same reason that God told Gideon and Moses and Esther and Mary to not be afraid – For God is with you.
Life is not all about you; it is about how you serve others.
Our world is in need of those who can heal the brokenness, work to shelter those who do not have shelter, feed those who do not have food, bring justice to the wronged, teach God’s children, learn about our creation from top to bottom, think faithfully about the issues that we are presented, and build understandings between people through art and music and drama, and other ways of communicating. The world needs you. And doing these tasks out of a sense of service means that we do not do so merely out of a desire to make money, or to do what we need to in order to survive. But we do what we do because we want to help others.
So we have no time for worrying about whether your office is bigger than the next person’s, or whether this or that task falls under your responsibility, or whether you have been wronged or insulted, or whether your paycheck is big enough, or whether you get your own parking spot. Rather, respond to the cry of the world for help. God will take care of you, and the rest of that stuff will work itself out eventually.
God loves diversity. You should, too.
While you were at Trinity, you got to know a lot of people who were different from you. They ate different food from you, came from different sorts of neighborhoods, had different opinions, perhaps worshipped differently, had different ideas and organizational styles and tastes and wardrobes, and so on. And that made our community all the richer. As you seek to fulfill your calling, remember that, and try to interact not only with those who are just like you, but also with those who are different. Live in a diverse neighborhood. Worship at a church with more than just people who are exactly like you, volunteer and coach little league and do other things in ways that keep you in touch with all of God’s children.
And keep a particular eye out for those who are different from you economically or socially and who need to be cared for. Jesus, throughout the New Testament, seems to have gone out of his way to spend time with those who are desperate, despised, different, and destitute. We need to do the same.
We have strived at Trinity to create a community of scholarship. Whether that meant having discussions in your classroom or your dorm room, or in the library or the BBC; or talking with your cohort about what really matters in life, and how we should live, and what justice means, and how God put the universe together, and how it works – Trinity has been a place where we have tried to think things through.
That also means that you need to keep reading. God gave us the Bible as a way to directly understand him. Because the Bible is a book, Christians don’t have the option of saying that they don’t read much, or that they don’t like to read. It is the way we can listen to God.
Your professors showed you how reading is also a way we can listen to and talk with people who may have lived long ago, or may be far away. So you need to read. Read about your discipline, about God and politics, and about science and education. You need to read about art and medicine. You need to read stories that matter. You need to read about other places in the world and try to understand those places and their people. Read online and off-line, read that which is fun and that which is serious. Read books and magazines and read God’s creation all around you. Read words and images. Read that which challenges you and that which gives you rest. And, of course, you need to read the Bible. The world needs you to have a clear, strong mind. So read.
I mentioned at the beginning of this jog, that you would be hearing that which you have heard before. I was right. The outline from my speech is right in the College catalogue. And it is on the College website. I have been working from the College’s mission statement. And if you have read it, you know that Trinity’s mission statement is the most complete, and we might say lengthy, mission statement that any college has ever had. Hang on to it. You may find it useful.
Okay, you are pulling away down the street. It has been nice of you to idle the truck like this. It has allowed me to keep up pretty well. But that road up there looks pretty busy, and I am pretty tired, so I am going to drop off to the side and breathe for a while. Our long distance runners, Dr. Craig Mattson, Dr. Kuecker, Dr. Browning and Dr. Commeret and a few others may be able to keep up with you until you get on the highway, but I am just about done.
So drive carefully. Take care. Email us when you get there. We are proud of you, and we know that you are going to do amazing things.