Trinity Celebrates May Commencement 2012: Photogalleries - Commencement Speech—Donnita Travis
The Little Things You Do Are More Important than the Big Things You Say
Thank you Dr. Timmermans, graduating Class of 2012, distinguished administration, and faculty, alumni, parents, family, and friends. Thank you all so much for inviting me to speak with you today.
I would like to begin by asking you to join me in congratulating our graduating class, congratulations! Just like the name commencement says, you all are commencing—you are beginning. And if you’re like me when I finished my bachelor’s degree, you are ready to go out and change the world.
In my case, it’s hard to believe, but that was 30 years ago. And a lot has happened since then. Thankfully, I’ve learned a thing or two, even about changing the world.
If you will allow me, I want to share one of my most important lessons that I actually learned, for the first time, while working in advertising with major brands such as Motorola, General Electric, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Here’s the lesson…
“It’s the little things you do, not the big things you say.”
It’s true in advertising that what companies do must match up to what they say in order to build consumer loyalty and trust. And it’s true in life!
“It’s the little things you do, not the big things you say.”
This reminds me of the story of Edward Kimball, a man many of you have probably never heard of. He was a Sunday school teacher, and one Sunday, a new young man showed up in his class. Mr. Kimball handed him a closed Bible and told him the lesson was in John. The boy took the book and began running his fingers through the first few pages looking for John. It was obvious to the other boys in the class that he didn’t know what he was doing, and they started grinning at each other. Mr. Kimball gave the boys a stern look and quietly handed the young man his own book, opened to the right place, saving the boy any further embarrassment. This boy was D.L. Moody who grew up to be one of the world’s most famous evangelists and the founder of The Moody Church, my church. Here’s is the remarkable thing, D. L. Moody later in life commented that this little thing that Edward Kimble did had a profound effect on his life, and I believe even how he came to faith; it was Edward Kimball who later shared the gospel message with D.L. Moody and prayed with D.L. Moody to receive Christ into his life.
I tell that story because it is such a great example of how the little things we do are more important than the big things we say AND how we never know the impact that little thing might end up having on the world.
I also tell that story because By The Hand Club is part D. L. Moody’s and Edward Kimball’s legacy. By The Hand Club started on March 20, 2001, with just 16 kids from Cabrini-Green, in a small room of The Moody Church.
I’ll tell you more about that in a minute, but first I want to share that before starting By The Hand Club, I had worked in advertising for 18 years. In the late 1990’s, in my quiet time, God used a verse from the book of John, John 10:10, to call me from a job in advertising onto a mission of helping kids experience the promise of that verse, abundant and eternal life.
I share this because I am often asked if I miss the corporate world. I think what they are really asking me is do I miss the money, the prestige, and the excitement. Without hesitating, I can say, “no.” I am more fulfilled today than I ever was in advertising, and in God’s economy, am using ALL of my experience, skills, and gifts more fully today than I ever did then, and I have the added benefit of knowing that I am living a life of purpose and making a difference in world. So, graduates, if God ever calls you into fulltime ministry, just know, if it is anything like it has been for me, you won’t be sacrificing anything. You will be blessed. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”
So, we started in spring of 2001 at The Moody Church, but by fall of that year we were growing quickly and wanted to be closer to our children and families, so we moved to a building in Cabrini-Green. We had just a handful of paid staff and volunteers and already 42 kids, and I remember feeling overwhelmed and REALLY scared because I didn’t know if this crazy idea would work.
The idea was to go to the poorest neighborhoods and ask Chicago Public School principals for their kids not meeting their reading standards, in other words the kids most likely to drop out of school and to take them by the hand and walk with them during the most dangerous time of day, the after-school hours, when more crimes are committed by and against youth than any other time and to show them the love of Christ by helping them do better in school, graduate from high school, and go on to college.
Well, its 11 years later, I can honestly say, thanks to God, it’s working.
Today, we are serving 851 kids in four of Chicago’s most under-resourced neighborhoods and:
- Last year, 100% of our students graduated from high school and 79% of them enrolled in college, our goal is 100% and we are still working toward that goal with our students from last year.
To help put this in perspective, Chicago has a history of high dropout rates, with around half of students failing to graduate high school for the past 30 years and only about half of CPS high school graduates going on to college.
- We also finished last year with 160 kids on the honor roll.
- 86% improvement in the number of kids meeting/exceeding ISAT reading standards (compared to CPS’s 6% last year), this was our best year ever in reading improvement.
I know that is a lot of numbers, but the important thing to remember is that behind each one of these numbers is a child. I wish I could share all of their stories with you today, but I only have time for one.
I’ll tell you about Keewuan. He was recommended to us in the 3rd grade because he didn’t know his ABCs.
…When he thinks back about his first day at the Club, he says, “I stepped into a different world. But this world seemed real. In the first five minutes of being in this world, I got the biggest and longest hug I had ever had, I felt like I was important.”
Keewaun needed eye glasses and he says, “It was hard for me to learn anything. I didn’t know what the letter A really looked like. It was difficult to pay attention, since school work looked fuzzy all the time.”
Because By The Hand Club does home visits every month, we knew Keewaun’s grandmother was too sick to take him for eyeglasses. So, we took him ourselves, and within weeks Keewaun knew his ABC’s and within months how to read.
Today, thanks to a series of little things we have done, Keewaun is in the 10th grade and is on his way to graduating from high school and going on to college.
There are many, many stories of kids who have experienced the peace and hope that come from knowing the love of Christ and his plan for them to have an abundant and everlasting life.
So I hope you get the sense that By The Hand Club is much more than a homework club or just a place for fun and games or hanging out. It’s a loving and caring place where we address our children’s most pressing needs, often little things, whether it is help with their homework, reading instruction, eye or dental care, a warm meal before they go home at night, or maybe just a smile or a hug. As a result, we are making a difference in the lives of children, one child, one little thing at a time.
I think this excerpt from the book, Kisses from Katie, by Katie Beth Clark, sums up what I’m saying really well:
“People who really want to make a difference in the world usually do it, in one way or another. And I’ve noticed something about people who make a difference in the world: They hold the unshakable conviction that individuals are extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, and treat one wound. They aren’t determined to revolutionize the world all at once; they’re satisfied with small changes. Over time, though, the small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and nations, and yes, the world.”
This is how Jesus lived his life every day while he was on this earth. Even though he saved mankind and had his eyes fixed on his Father’s will, he never overlooked the daily needs of others. He stopped along the way to heal the leper, make the lame man walk, help the blind man see, and even reached out to the deceitful, tax collector and change his life forever. We know from scripture that these were divine appointments and that is exactly how Jesus viewed them.
I like what it says in the book of Matthew about little things:
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” Matthew 25:23
So, graduates, again, congratulations! Let me encourage you to be strong and courageous, you’ve been prepared for fours years now by a really top notch educational institution to go out and change the world, one smile, one mind, one life at a time…knowing that over time, the small things you do, not the big things you say, add up. And might even, like we saw with Edward Kimball, change a life that changes a city and a nation, and yes, even the world.
So, as my mom says to me every morning, “Go get ‘em!” Thank you.