Commencement Address for The Geneva School Class of 2022
Dr. Michael S. Beates
Board of Governors, esteemed colleagues on the faculty, parents, students, and most especially, . . . you 22 members of the class of ’22:
I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to address you all today. But I also recognize that much more important things are waiting to happen here and elsewhere and my comments may seems merely to delay the really good stuff. I get that. Since so many really good people have said so many good things, what could I possibly say that might be memorable, or that you don’t already know, having learned so much from this esteemed faculty? Some commencement addresses are indeed memorable. David McCullough, Jr. became famous 10 years ago when his commencement address entitled “You are Not Special” went viral. Then in 2014, Adm. William McRaven got a lot of attention when he challenged University of Texas grads to start each day by making their bed.
Regardless, when I was sitting where you are, some 48 years ago (yes, . . . I can see you doing the math in your heads right now!), the last thing I wanted to do that day was listen to some old guy I did not know. Well, at least I think you all know this old guy . . . but I get it, you’d rather start celebrating than listen to me, so I’ll keep this brief.
Let me get this out there right off the top: I hope you all know I love you all with a godly affection – we have some history, me and this class of 2022. Yes, admittedly, half of you came to Geneva after the more veteran half had put up with m. . . uh, had attended my classes in 7th and 8th for Old and New Testament Survey. But checking the guest book at my home, I was fondly reminded that almost half of you have been in my home, some of you on multiple occasions. Good times, good memories. I sincerely wish I had more time with those of you “late comers” to Geneva, but you’ve had to make do hearing the stories of classes or backyard BBQ’s with Dr. B. But it’s all good. Love you all!
I had lots of thoughts rumbling around in my head to share with you, and I could not decide . . . I thought maybe some advice from an old Hilbilly might work. Things like:
Keep skunks, bankers, and politicians at a distance.
Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll find the time to do it twice.
Never corner something that’s meaner than you.
It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
Don’t be bangin’ your shin on a stool that’s not in the way.
Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.
The biggest troublemaker you’ll ever have to deal with is that rascal lookin’ back
atcha from the mirror every mornin’.
Good judgment comes from experience, and most experience comes from bad
If you ever get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’
somebody else’s dog around.
Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.
Not bad, right? But I finally thought I would just collect my “Top Ten” thoughts I hope you will consider and perhaps remember. Don’t worry, they are brief! Some of you may remember some of these from our times together; and perhaps for others, these might be new thoughts. But trust me, I am confident none of this is original with me . . . I just can’t remember any more where or from whom I first heard most of this. So here we go:
Number 10: Do not love the world or the things in the world – I remember where this one comes from – the Apostle John in 1 John 2:15 – rather love the Lord Jesus Christ. The world sings a siren song; it’s enthralling and it’s attractive. But it’s also death. Yes, as followers of Jesus, we live in the world, but we do not belong to the world – do not let the world own you. And if you come to a place where the world (that is the powers, the cultural influencers, the trends, that big rebellious mindset contrary to what God has created in His world and desires for His people), if this world applauds what you say or do, take a careful, long, honest look in the mirror and ask if you are still following Jesus. Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen (all the signs Jesus performed) and yet believe.” So believe, surrender, trust, and live in Jesus. This is my hope and the hope of every one of my colleagues here for each and every one of you. Believe, surrender and trust, live in Jesus. Do not love the world.
Number 9: Over the past 30 years, the tapestry of Geneva has become more complex, more vibrant colors and textures and depth – but its essence will not, indeed must not, change – Goodness, Truth, and Beauty are always worth pursuing. Geneva is your home and you will always be loved and welcomed here. Take Geneva with you, all that you have learned, all the friends you have made and all the truth you have absorbed. But remember: goodness, truth, and beauty. In that regard, remember also the words from Isaiah 30:21— “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” And the LORD also said through Jeremiah, “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” One of Tolkien’s goals was the recovering “old light in the world” – go out and take the old, well-worn, trusted paths, listen for God’s leading as you take turns in your road ahead. Discover, recover, and exalt the old light, the true light that gives light to everyone. Remember that trends and movements will come and go; but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Number 8: To quote Cinderella (or at least her mother), “Find courage and be kind” – even when this means making people angry. Whether Martin Luther said it or not (it has been attributed to him at least), it’s still true as a maxim: “Peace if possible, but truth at all cost.” Our cultural moment prizes empathy over truth. Be courageous enough to stand for truth in an age beguiled by lies and untruth. But also be kind in your stance as you defend the truth. There is no prize for being a jerk while you defend truth and Good News. Things may become hard if you continue to walk as Jesus calls us to walk. The world may hate you. You may be like Frodo, before embarking on the Quest (no, not like the movie in the mines of Moria, but at Bag End), Frodo said to Gandalf, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf famously replied, “So do I, my dear Frodo, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So find courage and be kind.
Number 7: You will learn NOTHING of any lasting value from pleasure and comfort – though too often this is the goal of the autonomous modern self. Let not pleasure and comfort be your goal. About 25 years ago I heard John Piper say “Move away from comfort toward need” – still true. Do the hard thing. The most beautiful gems are found only after digging deep with lots of sweat, pain, personal sacrifice, and loss. If pleasure and happiness are your goal, like a butterfly they will always be just beyond your reach, or profoundly fragile and unsatisfying if caught by your hands.
Don’t go looking for the painful stuff – trust me, I know this is true – it will find you sure enough in this broken and fallen world. But remember that God redeems pain, suffering, hardship, loss – and the most precious lessons are learned in the midst of the most difficult circumstance.
Number 6: Getting radical now. Follow God’s first commands: “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, have dominion over it” – but get married first. Too many people try to be god over their own world, not marrying, not having children. Find that love for life, have children, lots of ‘em if God so blesses you, and change the world. The richest rewards in life come from the simplest tasks – marry, be faithful, have children. Again from Tolkien, remember Thorin Oakenshield’s final words to Bilbo: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song [and I would add marriage, children, and family] above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
Number 5: When you get old like me, plant an oak tree under whose shade you know you’ll never sit. Cultivate optimism for the future. You are my oak trees. My optimism says that there are people yet to be born decades from now whom some of you will teach when you are old like me, and those people will be leaders in and change the world 100 years from now in the 22nd century. Play the long game!
Number 4: Have a humble perspective. on life and your calling because God will probably break you before He really uses you – I wish it weren’t that way, but there it is. J.I. Packer’s final brief, little book, written as he was going blind and failing in health, was entitled Weakness is the Way (I recommend it!). So cultivate humility. It will serve you well. And remember that the wounds God gives you are meant for your good and so He gets the glory.
Number 3: God hardly ever does things the way we expect, and He often uses people you’d least expect – you may be sitting close to someone who will change the world! So treat people with godly respect. Expect God to surprise you. Remember that God opposes the proud, but He exalts the humble. So be like David, remembering his words from Psalm 31: “I trust in you, O LORD, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” God is sovereign, you are not.
Number 2: Remember what McCullough said ten years ago: you are not special! Unique? Yes! Made in God’s image and known by name by the Creator of the Universe? Absolutely! But special? Not so much – despite what the self-absorbed culture of the world wants you to think. In light of this, go out and serve the One who is special. The world is selling you the idea that you are number one. But Jesus says be “number last” and give yourself away for the sake of others. Do not think of yourself first, but be like Jesus: deny yourself, serve the needs of others before yourself. The world says “Self-care” but Jesus says “self-denial.” Be contra mundum! Remember Dr. Vande Brake’s reciting to us the words of Jesus: “The greatest among you will be servant of all.” So . . . go be great as you fly off to whatever new adventures God has in store for you. But remember you are not special. Love others with a basin and a towel. Be a servant.
Finally, Number 1: Proverbs chapter 3 says (in part):
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favor and good success
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones (Prov. 3:3-8).
What can one add to such wisdom of the ages? But I urge you – each of you – take those verses, write them on a card, keep them with you, put them on your desk at college or wherever the Lord takes you from here. Follow those admonitions, and you will do well. Put hesed and emet – steadfast love and faithfulness – onto the tablet of your heart – interesting thought that when we memorize something, we know it “by heart” not by mind. Bind steadfast love and faithfulness around your heart – these are two qualities God uses most often to describe himself; but importantly, they are also attributes He shares with us so that we can demonstrate love and faithfulness to the watching and desperate world.
Be people characterized by steadfast love and faithfulness. Draw from and cling to the steadfast love of Christ, and remember always that God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is faithful.
Class of ’22 – you have left your mark on The Geneva School. Well done! Now cling to Jesus so that He may use you further to stamp His mark on the world and to build His kingdom through your faithful service.
God bless you all. Amen.
NOTE: The live stream of this address can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HzBp2WbdZ0 (my address starting at minute 47). Enjoy!