My Message To Graduates (And Maybe Myself)

I’ll probably never get to speak at a college graduation. Oh, sure, once in awhile I’m the token woman on stage, reading scripture or praying, but conveying my wisdom to the masses of graduating seniors at my institution or elsewhere?

Ain’t gonna happen.

First, of course, there’s that whole speaking in public thing. I can entertain classrooms of up to 40 students without much of a problem, though the moments before entering each class, even after 20 years, requires some powerful self talk. Facing an entire crowd of people, most who aren’t listening to me anyway and who wish I’d shut my pie hole so they could get on with the celebrating? That would be terrifying.

Not that I’d ever resented a graduate speaker for going on to long, mind you. Or at least not very often. There was that year when our graduation speaker was an old rich Christian guy who kept talking to the “young men in the audience” as if the 60 percent of women also graduating were not worthy of his wisdom, and I kept wanting him to shut the hell up already. But I was the token-woman-reading-scripture that year, and up in front of the crowd, and so my gagging noises had to be subtle.

So there’s the other thing: I’m not wealthy, and only a little bit Christian, and not famous at all. There’s no way a university like mine will ask me to speak at commencement, since they aren’t courting my money or my Big Name. Plus, I imagine folks might think I’m a little bit of a loose canon, and might utter slightly embarrassing stuff about feminism, or about evangelical cultural crap, or God being a woman or something (and that right there just lost me the chance to pray as token woman at graduation ever again).

Here’s the only platform I’ve got, then, to share with this year’s graduating class from my little corner of the universe. Last year on the blog, I told the story about my own graduation, and about how me and my puffy hair (my puffy hair and I?) felt sad about graduating without that ring by spring. I won’t go there again, except to say No ring? No sweat! Go forth into the world gladly.

Now I know most graduation speakers say something gratuitous about this year’s class being spectacular and talented, but what do they know? Have they been in the classroom, ever, hearing students engage with good ideas in mind-blowing ways? Have they read students’ essays, and felt a pang of jealousy that they couldn’t write that well themselves? Have they seen the day-to-day compassion and passion of the students, the ways students invest time in extra curricular activities and service projects and relationships?

No, they have not. But I have.

And I must say, wow. Every year I’m impressed with what college students can do. Graduation speakers often challenge the audience to go out and do Big Things, not knowing that the students have already been doing Big Things for several years.

So while I’m tempted to say “Keep it up,” my message to graduating seniors is also “slow down.” Because this is what I wish someone would have told me (and my puffy hair) at 21:

  •  For traditional graduates especially, enjoy your 20s; for the rest of you, enjoy the time you have.
  • Relish this time to explore everything.
  • Don’t feel the need to rush into a career: a career can wait another decade or so—and at that point, you’ll still have another 35 years and more to enjoy your vocation.
  • Meet people. Meet other people.
  • Finds ways to work for justice and equity and peace.
  • If someone tells you that you need to fulfill a role because doing so is “biblical,” ask yourself whether in fulfilling that role, you are limiting God’s ability to work in your life. And then, decide that “biblical” roles are a matter of interpretation. And then, decide how you can best serve the gifts God has given you, away from the “biblical roles” someone demands you assume.
  • And finally, eat junk food while watching bad television, and enjoy it.

Okay, so maybe not the last one: but when I did that in my 20s, I always felt a little guilty. Like I should be Doing Something. Maybe it’s okay, though, to not do something once in awhile. By graduation, college students have been doing stuff full-bore for four years (or three, if they are really smart), and I would encourage them to take a chill pill, even if that means watching Real Housewives once in awhile.

That, my friends, would be the essence of my message, and probably another reason why I won’t be asked to speak at graduation any time soon. Advocating for bad reality television at a Christian college graduation? Might be as bad as, say, telling students they don’t need to read C.S. Lewis to be a good Christian.

Were I to speak, I would do yet one more thing atypical of most graduation speakers: that is, I would run out of the gym and all the way home, thereby circumventing any painful good-byes.

‘Cause here’s the other thing about graduation: I hate it. Hate having to bid farewell to students who have become friends, and who have changed and shaped me, in some cases more than I, them. You might want to consider this small little post my good-bye, then. On graduation day, I’ll probably leave the ceremony as soon as I can. I’ve got stuff to do, after all: my television is waiting. After all, I plan to follow a bit of my own advice, starting with some Chex mix and Celebrity Apprentice.

What advice would you give to graduating seniors? I’d love to hear it!