Tonight I have the honor of offering a reflection during the Newark High School Baccalaureate. It is addressed to this year’s graduating class. Here is my reflection for them:
To our graduating seniors, you are about to celebrate a milestone in your lives, graduation. At graduation, you will receive a diploma that signifies you have satisfactorily completed all the requirements to be called a high school graduate. You have been working towards this moment for at least the last 13 years.
When you started school, you were very dependent on others, primarily your parents and teachers. In more recent years, you have been becoming more independent and not so reliant on your parents. Yet, your parents are still here for you just as God is always with you.
Much of what you studied in school so far has focused on general requirements. As you graduate, you make what likely to date is the biggest decision of your lives so far. Some of you will find full-time jobs right away. Others will be going to college for more education but get a little more freedom to choose what you study. Still others will be entering the military. Lastly, perhaps there are some of you who just want to take some time to sort things out as you move to the next stage of your life. As long as you let him, God will guide you to use the gifts you have been given to make our world a better place.
Each of you have your reasons for your choice. It might be long-time dream. On the other hand, it might not be a profound decision. Thirty-one years ago, I graduated high school (which makes me older than some of your parents). I went to college to study engineering. I chose engineering because I loved math and science.
Since then, I made a career shift to ministry. What you think you want to do for the rest of your life may or may not change. I invite you to do two things. The first is to realize you never stop learning. The classroom studies might end but new things will always come your way. Secondly, never stop believing.
I don’t know what your relationship with God is. I know some of you are in church every week, even if it is just because your parents make you. Others may not go to church much.
I will admit to you that when I was your age, I didn’t go to church. Before you all start thinking that means it is okay to skip church, don’t! It might sound cliché but I can honestly say that if I knew then what I know now I would never have stopped going to church. It feeds me. I need my faith.
The world can be a difficult place. There are all kinds of people in the world. For some, they are only interested in their own wealth and notoriety. Many reject that there is a god. They choose to be atheists. Others choose to be agnostic, meaning they don’t reject but doubt God exists.
The poem “Do It Anyway” by Mother Teresa that we heard a few minutes ago, when you are kind, people may accuse of ulterior motives, “be kind anyway.” If you are honest, they make take advantage of your honesty. No matter what others do, be kind, be honest. Be who God calls you to be.
Think not of yourself first. It’s okay to have fun but not at the expense of others. In the gospel that we just heard, Jesus tells us “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the meek.” This is not a call to cower. It is a call to love, to love God and to love our neighbor.
It is the love that Jesus speaks of when he says that no one has a greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend (John 15:13). Jesus is Son of God but he humbled himself to come and lay down his life for us.
I encourage you to be people who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” If the conflict in the world is to end, we need people who are willing to be peacemakers. Somebody has to be the first to be merciful.
Right now, some of you might feel on top of the world. Others might feel small and insignificant. Let me tell you that God has a place for each and every one of you, of us, in his plan.
Whatever God’s plan for you is, he will always give you what you need to be the best person you can be. Pray that you come to see the world as God sees it. You see, it isn’t just about what you “do”. It is about what you choose to be on the inside. It is the attitude you live with.
Do your best. Everyone matters. We need people to perform all sorts of tasks. As I said before, I studied engineering in college based on my love for math and science. I spent seven years designing and building roads and bridges. I believe that it was important work. After all, where would we be if the bridges all fell down?
What about the people who clean our buildings? If they did a lousy job and left dirt and germs behind, we would all be sick. We count on them.
We need accountants to help manage our resources well. We need secretaries and administrative assistants to keep things running well. We need medical people to care for our physical health. We need people in police work, firefighters, and the military to keep us safe.
In a moment, we will hear “A New Beginning” by Joanna Fuchs. As you face this new beginning in your life, think about your faith. Think about God. Know that God loves you. God will help you in whatever comes your way as long as you open your heart to him.
Let us pray:
Lord, as these seniors prepare to celebrate their graduation
And embark on the next stage of their lives,
We ask your blessing upon them.
Help them to find your direction in their lives,
To know that you have a plan for each and every one of them
As you love each and every one of them.
Help them to look beyond themselves,
To be poor in spirit and meek,
setting aside any selfish desire,
that they may also hunger and thirst for what is good in your eyes.
Help them to be peacemakers,
To find an end to the conflict in our world.
Help them to bring forth a brighter future,
where acts of violence are no longer common.
We ask that you always watch over and protect them.
Help them to know your presence and your love.
Give them hope,
Give them a loving heart,
Fill them with gladness
And a life filled with joy.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.