Dr. W. Craig Turner
Congratulations, class of 2011! You have achieved a major milestone — you have taken all the exams, written all the papers, finished all the projects. Tomorrow you will cross the stage and receive a diploma certifying that you have completed all the necessary requirements for your degree.
You leave Catawba College as one of the world's privileged citizens. While your time at Catawba is at an end and you will be missed by your Catawba family, it is a time of celebration and of new opportunities — the doors are now opening for the next stage of your life. Thus, tomorrow is a commencement — a beginning.
I want to thank Dr. Clapp for inviting me to speak tonight. I appreciate all who have had a hand in making this service a special event. I made 3 requests for tonight's service and all have been accommodated — thank you, Ken.
- I asked that the scripture readings be from the 13th chapter of I Corinthians and from the 40th chapter of Isaiah;
- I asked that we sing "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee";
- And I asked one of your classmates, Kristopher Watson, to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Thank you Kristopher and Professor Oakley.
Tonight we have gathered for a baccalaureate service — a tradition that began at Oxford University perhaps as early as 1432. We are here in celebration of and thanksgiving for learning and wisdom. You have invested your last 4 years or so in attaining knowledge: hopefully, you have gained some wisdom in the process. When we learn to apply the best knowledge to the living of our lives, we are practicing wisdom.
I want to share some wise thoughts with you this evening — certainly not original with me, but from my knowledge — from things I have learned in my lifelong educational journey. And be assured, if you wish to be wise, your education is just beginning: you are now commencing your lifelong quest for wisdom.
Thus, we are here tonight not only to celebrate and congratulate, but also to challenge you. As a teacher, I want to offer some words of advice as you exit the college doors and enter new ones. As a Christian, I want to encourage you and support you.
In a very short time, this rapidly changing world in which we live will belong to you. You and your cohorts will be in charge: you will be doctors and lawyers, preachers and teachers, businesspersons and social workers, coaches and athletic trainers, politicians and poets, performers and perhaps even a college faculty member or two.
To send you on your way, I want to remind you of several cardinal principles for living your lives wisely and well.
In the Apostle Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he includes three challenging and comprehensive ideals: "Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."
Last year at commencement, I challenged the class of 2010 to be persons of love. Using a passage from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, I encouraged them to take Atticus Finch's advice and "stand in the shoes" of other people. Lee's heroine, Scout Finch, brings the novel to its climax with the following lesson she has learned from her father and from her own experience:
... Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley front porch was enough. (TKM, p. 279.
Love is all about caring enough to stand in another person's shoes to understand where they are in life — what they are experiencing. Too often we rush to judgment and hastily condemn others without considering what they are experiencing. When we take the time and effort to stand in their shoes, we demonstrate true love. Such empathy is the real test of love, not hormonal attraction.
Robert Browning, the 19th century British poet, wrote frequently of love: listen to several of his thoughts from various poems.
Such was ever love's way: to rise, it stoops.
Men should, for love's sake, believe in love.
Love is victory, the prize itself.
Too much love there can never be.
Paul even more eloquently and thoroughly describes it:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Love is treating people the way we would like to be treated ourselves. It demands a commitment from us, an act of the will to get outside ourselves and our everyday issues and decide to make a difference for good. Be a person who Loves — a difference maker.
In addition to being a loving person, I encourage you to Be a Person of Faith.
Uncertainty surrounds us every day: the future is both unknown and, in many respects, uncontrollable. Fortunately, having faith does not mean having all the answers. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson has written,
"There lives more faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds."
Or as Robert Browning wrote,
I show you faith to prove that doubt exists.
The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,
If faith overcomes doubt.
Again, as with love, faith is more than feeling; it is an act of will — choosing to trust and believe in things that are often beyond our capacity to prove. Browning links love and faith together: "Love should be absolute love,/Faith is the fullness or naught."
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, faith is the believer's proper response to God. In order to transcend the questions and difficulties that inundate our daily lives, we should cultivate a lifestyle that nurtures our faith in something beyond ourselves. As the prophet Isaiah has so inspiringly written:
Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not faint.
As much as possible, we need to surround ourselves with people in whom we can place our faith. We need to believe in something that can ground our thinking and our living. Be a person of Faith.
Next, Be a Person of Hope.
These are certainly difficult, even tumultuous times: we are immersed in wars, we live in daily awareness of international terrorism, we are struggling with an ongoing worldwide economic crisis, we are threatened by pandemics that no one seems to understand, social issues abound, we face significant environmental issues, and our national debt has assumed massive proportions. In addition, the job market is certainly not what you hoped it would be when you entered college.
While these and scores of other threats and obstacles can overwhelm our daily existences, the challenge that I offer you is to dream large and important dreams for your future, to be a person who chooses to live in hope.
I love the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "'I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
My favorite quotation from my favorite poet, Robert Browning, is, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,/Or what's a heaven for?" Like Jeremiah, Browning was an optimistic realist: a person who understood life in its gritty reality, but constantly saw what we could become and challenged us to go beyond the rainbow.
I love the Beethoven music and the Henry van Dyke words to the hymn we sang: "Joyful, Joyful, We adore Thee." I thought it appropriate for my remarks because a person who commits to love, faith, and hope is — by force of nature — a joyful person. Let me remind you of the words of the first stanza of that hymn:
Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before Thee,
Op'ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!
Earlier, Kristopher Watson beautifully sang for us the most memorable song from the remarkable 1939 motion picture The Wizard of Oz.
What about that rainbow?
The Biblical story of Noah story presents us with significant implications for the rainbow: after torrential rains have destroyed most life on earth, God presents Noah with the rainbow as a symbol:
I have set the rainbow in the clouds and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
For thousands of generations, the rainbow has been a sign of hope — of the future that belongs to us as loving and faithful persons with dreams and goals.
Before I close, I want to read you the words of another rainbow song that premiered in another motion picture 40 years after The Wizard of Oz: not as unforgettable a song or movie, it was sung not by Judy Garland, but by a frog. The song is "The Rainbow Connection," and it was first performed in 1979 during the opening titles of The Muppet Movie.
Dreamers are persons with faith and hope — the two go together. Be a person of hope — be a dreamer.
I close by reminding you of the opening words of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow":
Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true.
[E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen]
I hope and pray tonight that you will always look for the rainbows that follow the storms; that you always remember St. Paul's admonition: be persons of faith, hope, and love; and that you heed Browning's advice: "Look up, advance! All now is possible."
Congratulations, and may God bless each of you on your personal journey to wisdom and joy!