2010 December Commencement: Photogallery - Speech
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
You Must Remember This—
2010 December Commencement Address, Dr. Sharon Robbert
President Timmermans, Provost Rudenga, faculty, staff, graduates, family and friends:
It is an honor to be able to speak to you today, but an honor that I take with a grain of salt. This is because the premise of my words to you today is that no one ever remembers the content of a commencement address. I’ve personally attended at least 30 graduation ceremonies, and I have at best only vague memories of these commencement speeches. An informal poll of a few colleagues who have attended more of these ceremonies than I shows that I am not alone. At best, attendees of graduation ceremonies remember the person who spoke when something out of the ordinary happens—usually these are bad things, like when the speaker trips on the way to the podium or mispronounces the name of the president. So why is it that no one remembers what the address is about? There are several reasons that might be contributing factors, all of which make this address a particularly challenging experience for me. Here are some that might be distracting you from paying attention right now:
- You might be worried about standing, sitting, walking, wearing your mortarboard, or accepting your diploma case at the right time.
- You might be more interested in the concept of a graduation ceremony than the particulars of this one.
- You have never seen me before and don’t anticipate seeing me again, so why listen, much less remember something that is said now 10 minutes after the ceremony is complete?
- You might need a break from brain exercise because you just finished exams or grading the last set of papers from your student teaching internship.
- But maybe the problem is that you have a poor view. Did you know that the typical location for Trinity faculty members is in the front few rows of the auditorium? I usually sit pretty close to the photographer—front and center of the first row. In this location, I get a splendid view of the feet and footwear of the platform party and graduates. At last May’s ceremony, strappy sandals replaced flip-flops for graduate attire, in case you were curious.
Even though there are reasons why you might not remember, you probably have direct experience with tools to aid memory. Remembering facts and issues is particularly important during college years. You may have used a mnemonics device. To spell geography, I learned “George Eliot’s Oldest Grandfather Rode a Pig Home Yesterday” back in elementary school. Maybe you used creative visualization, where you mentally placed important facts in a location in the testing room for recall during testing. Some people rely on muscle memory for learning terminology or shooting a basketball or striking a soccer ball or playing a complicated run on the piano, but this requires long hours of practice. Other memory tricks include using color for note-taking or singing concepts as the lyrics to a familiar tune. “Is-am-are-was-were-be-been are the linking verbs.” I learned that song from my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Fairbanks, but I’m still not certain why it was important to know which verbs were linking verbs.
The need for memory tools is not new to the 21st century—memory tools are even identified in the Old Testament! Back in the days of the infant Israelite nation, God knew that his people would have trouble with their memory in spite of the dramatic events in their history. God told his people to tie the Shema “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” to their hands and foreheads and write this same phrase on their doorposts to help them remember.
So, if you aren’t going to remember this address, what must you remember? Not the specifics of this address and certainly not the speaker. I believe that you must remember what is important about your particular Trinity experience. Here are some things to consider, centered around Trinity’s one-line statement of identity and purpose. “Trinity Christian College is a community of Christian scholarship committed to shaping lives and transforming culture.”
First, Trinity is a community. Who made up the community for your Trinity experience? I imagine that you would include fellow students in your class or cohort, friends in major classes, teammates, roommates, professors, and academic advisors. You may even include the chaplain, RAs, RDs, and other staff members who have made a difference for you—those who serve coffee or prepare meals or clean the buildings or fix computers or take tuition payments—these people all have contributed to your Trinity experience. So this is something I would put on the list of items that you must remember. What memory tools can help you remember these people and the Trinity community as a whole? Unfortunately there is no Trinity school song to bind us together, a song like “As Time Goes By” that we can ask Sam from the film Casablanca to play for us. But Trinity does have one distinctive item that can represent our community well: our school mascot, the Troll. I’ve brought one today as a visual aid to your memory. So try to think of your particular community as a collection of Trolls—friendly blue trolls like this one.
Next, Trinity is a community of Christian scholarship. Two words here need unpacking: Christian and scholarship. At Trinity, these two words are linked together through the particular slant on higher education that is present on this campus. On this campus we are committed to infusing a Christian view into what we learn and the way in which we learn.
One familiar component of the Christian view at Trinity is the creation-fall-redemption-new creation motif. The very building in which this ceremony is occurring is designed to help remember these components. Of the four stained glass windows planned for this building, three are installed: the Creation window is in the recital hall on the north end of the building, the Redemption window is in the Grand Lobby on the south side, and the recently installed Restoration window is located above the doors on the east side of the building. The window to represent the Fall has yet to be installed. The designs of these windows provide a reminder of who is in charge and to help us identify our place and purpose in God’s creation. Did you know that this building is designed in the shape of a cross? In the physical construction of this building, the cross of our redeemer Jesus Christ links these four themes of Christian worldview. After the graduation ceremony is complete, I encourage you to take the time to look at each of these beautiful stained glass windows.
Now for the second part. In each discipline at Trinity, the subject that you have studied has intentional connection to these themes and to other themes important to a Christian worldview. For example, all persons have value because they are created in the image of God, so future teachers are taught that they have a responsibility to teach all students whether they learn concepts easily or need an IEP (an individual educational plan) to facilitate their learning. Or, if you prefer, we know that we are co-creators with Christ as we make and redeem culture, and with this comes the responsibility of the creation mandate to care for the world. So we study the impact the construction of athletic fields has on the population of snakes in the adjoining woods. We also know that God created the world with inherent order and structure, so in mathematics we study the patterns that we see in creation and marvel that following a logical structure in our models accurately predicts patterns in weather and cell development. I could add more, but you get the idea. So what if we put glasses on our Troll and make him look a bit more academic and better represent the Christian scholarship portion of Trinity’s purpose statement?
Third, Trinity is a community of Christian scholarship committed to shaping lives. Experiences at Trinity have molded you into the person God needs you to be for your vocation. What experiences do you remember having the most impact? Did you have a time where you worked on a project for a course and you were particularly proud of the results? What about experiences in a culminating internship like student teaching—was there a particular lesson that you enjoyed teaching and your students enjoyed learning? For some of you, living on your own for the first time has played a huge role in who you are today and who you will be in the future. But even if you didn’t live in campus housing, you have very likely been changed through your experiences with others—both in academic and in co-curricular settings at Trinity. Maybe that was through a course field trip to a city art exhibit or maybe it was at a project team meeting with other students at the BBC or maybe it was at a chapel service or maybe it was through a service-learning project for a course or through volunteer hours at an organization that provides services to the needy. All of these things, both the academic and co-curricular, have prepared you in ways that you might not yet even identify. As God told the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:11 while they were being punished through their captivity and exile in Babylon: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God’s hand has been actively shaping each of you through experiences at Trinity so that you might be prepared for kingdom work next week, next year, and in the next decades to come. Let’s give our Troll a carabiner and a tiny book so that we can remember that he has and must continue to shape his muscles—biceps and brain—for vocation work.
Finally, Trinity is a community of Christian scholarship committed to shaping lives and transforming culture. Transforming culture is a huge task, one that is not complete in four short years or 22 months of academic experiences. Have you heard the phrase “pay it forward?” The concept of “pay it forward” is parallel but opposite to that of “pay back,” as in slugging your brother when he teases you. To “pay it forward” means that once energy or good will or learning is invested in a person that this person in turn has the responsibility to pass that same thing on to other people. God blesses those he loves with the understanding that through us, all of creation will be blessed. As heirs of Abraham, we are “blessed to be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). With the help of the Holy Spirit, Trinity has invested knowledge, love, community, and culture in you. And, by the help of the Holy Spirit, you now have the responsibility to pay this investment forward through your engagement with the world outside of Trinity. This part is what you have been preparing to do. Through your career; with your family, friends, and coworkers; and in your community you are called to redeem the world for Christ. My hope is that your experiences at Trinity have opened your eyes to the ways in which you might be an agent to transform culture—whether it is through political action or church service or developing a new business or graduate school study or creating art or teaching children—all of these things can build to the transformation of culture with and for Christ. Our poor little Troll already has too much to carry, but maybe he can stand on a Bible to help us remember that the community of Trolls needs the foundation of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to pay forward the blessings that God has given us.
So, will you remember this commencement address? Probably not. But hopefully, you will remember this little Troll and the things with him—the glasses he wears to represent Christian scholarship, the carabiner and book to represent the ways you’ve been shaped, and a Bible to represent the task God has already laid out for you in the future.
May God bless you and your loved ones as you leave Trinity and go into service in the Kingdom of God!
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