Out in the caf, outside my office, the shuffling, groaning zombies of finals week have moved on, and the giddy, touring families fill our graduation weekend. As will be the case for much of summer, it’s sometimes exciting to see a familiar face in the crowd of guests. A close colleague passed me yesterday and laughed that she didn’t recognize me without my glasses. Of course, I only wear them for my secret identity, anyway.
My own Pepperdine commencement held a few unexpected guests. For one, Ronald McDonald (who, I feel I can now disclose, was previously a resident of my Lovernich apartment) made an appearance. He creepily threatened to offer us an opportunity for advancement following the ceremony, looking down on the graduates through an upstairs window on upper dorm row (our ceremony was on the track), eventually escorted out of view by Public Safety.
We also discovered that our scheduled graduation speaker couldn’t make it, replaced by the former Delegate to Somethin’er’nother, whom we were honored to have impart thirty minutes or so of brilliant international political wisdom to take to the world. As we baked in the sun, he then looked out over the sweaty, squirming black-robed sea – impatient, excited, mortar-boarded and bewildered, jealous for our confiscated beach balls – and said, “In closing, I would like to make the following eight points.”
There was an audible groan. Of which, I am not proud. He was doing the best that he could, especially under the circumstances. We were playing our part, as well, I suppose. Even if I’d pay admission to hear that speech today, in the moment, I thought I’d already attended my last lecture of all time. Don’t tell 22-year-old-me about the additional years of school ahead.
Graduations! Pepperdine’s are staggered through the Spring and Summer (two down, two to go), but the Seaver ceremony tomorrow is often the most exciting. It feels like the biggest beginning. It’s jam-packed with wonder.
You’ll get a lot of great (GREAT) advice from super (SUPER) people in the coming days. Let me take off my glasses for a moment, and offer what I learned. Not advice, across the board, but maybe a suggestion.
The first thing I would do, if I were you, is find a place where what you’ve done or plan to do, what you hope and fear, and what you present to the world as your best, safest, most hire-able self doesn’t matter. I suggest, whatever is next, you ground yourself first in a relationship where you are willing to tell and hear the truth.
There are things you will need to do and say to get a job, to network, to “succeed.” But I found that who I thought I was and how I thought I needed to be perceived became an obstacle to becoming who I am, and am meant to be.
You have done a great thing, and you are to be congratulated and celebrated for it! But don’t forget this: the One who made and loves you never valued you more, and will never value you less. And, the way that God sees you is more important that any vision you or others have for yourself. God will be for you, exactly as you are, no matter what is ahead. Who is going to help you see that truth? That’s where I’d go first.
I know that trust is not easy, and community is fragile, and, yes, churches have failed people. But it will be worth it. If jobs, friends, financial security, even family fade with pomp and circumstance, you will already have a place where you can say, “Here I am,” and hear God reply, “Me, too.” Stick with those folks. Stay with them, even if the songs they sing and the get-up that makes up their secret identity make them look like you’d never relate.
If you look a little closer, I hope you’ll discover God’s love behind those big goofy frames, and see the wonder with which they view the truth back at you. Together, you will keep becoming your true identity and purpose as God’s Beloved. Those are the people with whom you’ll discover the life God has for you, not through something you can do, but because it’s his pleasure to be with, among, and for you. They’ll remind you of that.
When you’re together, you take off your glasses and see, and are seen, more clearly than before. Sometimes, you’ll need people to help you let go of what keeps you from seeing God clearly. You’ll probably need the help (I did), and those moments of growth – not your talents or accomplishments or opportunities, though wonderful – will be your path to success.
If you can’t find ’em, feel free to ask for directions. You might just spot one on their way back from superhuman feats of love, notice what phone booth they ducked into, and ask where they’re headed next.
In closing, come back and see us. We’ll keep the speeches to a minimum.