To the class of 2003 at Graduation

(Remarks to the Redmond High School Graduating Class of 2003)

A long, long time ago in a faraway galaxy, I sat with my parents in a service similar to this. My parents sat in stunned disbelief that I had graduated. I was the kind of kid who when my dad asked whether I was ignorant or apathetic answered. “I don’t know and I don’t care.”

My parents felt I had not fully applied myself, though I told them I had given 100% to academics: 12% on Monday, 23% on Tuesday, 40% on Wednesday, 20% on Thursday, and 5% on Friday.

Perhaps you know the prayer I learned as a senior, “Now I lay me down to rest, I pray to pass my final test. If I should die before I wake, that’s one less test I’ll have to take!”

I did not know at the time what a privilege education is, how much my teachers had shaped me and what an investment my parents had made in me. Let me congratulate the graduates of the class of 2003 on your accomplishment and to parents and teachers¢â‚¬¦on behalf of the class of 2003. Thank you.

I am honored to speak to you tonight and deciding how to focus my remarks was a challenge. I went on-line to research other graduation speeches. Woody Allen’s was the shortest: “We have given you a perfect world. Please do not screw it up.” One-time under-achiever President W. Bush said: “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be president of the United States.”

A web hoax has Novelist Kurt Vonnegut giving one of MIT’s most memorable speeches: “If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.” (Even though it is a web hoax, it is a funny story and I thought I’d use it anyway!).

Rather than offer scientific evidence, a web hoax or mere personal opinion, I decided to direct your thoughts to the first chapter of the Bible, a book of ancient yet timely wisdom. In the first chapter of Genesis we learn three things. In the beginning was God. In the beginning God created. And God saw that all that he had made was good.

I chose this in hopes that every time you read the first chapter of the Bible you will remember the great possibilities that were yours at graduation in 2003¢â‚¬¦

1) Genesis means beginning and this is the beginning of a new phase of your life

For parents. After years of investing time, energy and money¢â‚¬¦you begin spending more time, energy and money¢â‚¬¦but to a young adult who will increasingly make his or her own decisions. The WSJ estimates the average parent spends over $1/2 million from birth to the end of college. That’s why so many parents have the bumper sticker, “Driver carries no cash-kid in college.”

For the graduate this is your “NEMO moment.” This popular movie tells the story of an overprotective father (a Clown Fish) and an adventurous and overconfident son named Nemo. As Nemo swims to a fishing boat he proclaims, “I can do it DAD!” just before he is scooped into a fisherman’s net, heading for his impending doom!

Parents. As the father of a 19 year old, I sat where you are one year ago, and I have something to report. Psychologists call what our kids will do next: “individuating.” I call it maddening, but it is very real! Our kids need to begin their new life and make their own mistakes. We need to let them do it and befriend them through it, even when it appears they are headed for their impending doom!

GRADUATES. 2) Created in the image of God, this is the time you will exercise your creative abilities. You will now begin creating your own life. God looked at all He had made and said. “IT IS GOOD.” Determine to do the same.

You will begin making the choices that will determine: Who you are? Who you want to become? What you will do with your talent? Who you will spend your life with.

One day you’ll be old like me and you will look back and you’ll ask, Did I build a satisfying career? Did I invest in a successful marriage and family? Did I make a difference in this world?

Few are like David Brinkley, world-class journalist who died this week in his 80’s. He summarized his life as follows, “11 Presidents, 4 Wars, 22 Political Conventions, 1 Moon Landing, 3 Assassinations, 2,000 Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television, and 18 Years of Growing Up in North Carolina.” Brinkley then went on to say, “If I were 20 years old, I would try to do the same thing again, all of it. I have no regrets. None at all.”

As you create your life¢â‚¬¦ Determine to do so in a way that is without regrets.

Lily Tomlin once said: “I always wanted to be somebody¢â‚¬¦but I see now I should have been more specific. “ It has been my observation that most lives are marked by avoidable, regrettable actions. This week in the world of sports Rick Neuheisel is losing his dream job for lying; in business Sam Waksal is going to jail at the age of 62, and Martha Stewart may not far behind after SEC trading violations; in politics, Bill Clinton will always be associated with Monica Lewinski and Richard Nixon with Watergate.

You are beginning to create your own life. Determine to do so in a way that is without regrets. Make it one that you can look back on and say IT IS GOOD.

3) Which brings us back to God. My generation is learning there is no good life without God.

Psychologist David Myers, author of “America-the great paradox” reports, “We are better paid, better fed, better housed, better educated and healthier than ever before¢â‚¬¦yet for 30 years America slid into a deepening social recession¢â‚¬¦ The divorce rate has doubled, the teen suicide has tripled, the recorded violent crime rate has quadrupled, the prison population has quintupled, the % of babies born to unmarried parents has sextupled, cohabitation has increased sevenfold and depression has soared to ten times the pre-World War II level, by one estimate.”

Increasingly we are all realizing that we suffer a spiritual deficit in our country.

The result? According to George Gallup 82% of Americans say they are spiritual seekers and 52% say they have talked about spiritual issues in the previous 24 hours.

WHY? Augustine said of God: “you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal added, “in each human is a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.” It is in God we find our greatest fulfillment, shape our highest aspirations and experience the unconditional love and forgiveness in our regrettable moments.

As a talk show host I have been privileged to interview some of the great writers of the 20th century. It is amazing how many of them are focused on the search for God.

Norman Mailer, who won the national book award at 26 years of age, told me at the age of 70 that his one pre-occupation is God, saying, “I’m obsessed with God.”

Robert Stone, author of the “Damascus Gate,” talked of “leaving religion and 20 years later waking up and feeling like half my head was missing.” He reported to me, “I think it happens to a lot of people. You leave religion with a tremendous sense of liberation and then years later you discover that something really important is missing. And you either start all over again and go back and try to reclaim it, or else you substitute something else for it. There is that element of man as Pascal said, ¢â‚¬Ëœthe world everywhere gives evidence of a vanished God and man in all his actions gives evidence of a longing for that God. So you make do in small ways. One way or other you’ve got to fill that space somehow.”

The youthful Douglas Coupland, who coined the term Generation X, went on to write “Life After God.” Describing a life without any religious instruction or upbringing, near the end of the book he confesses in hushed tones, “Now here is my secret. I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond able to love.”

Class of 2003, your generation is spiritually hungry, but is leaving religion. A University of Chicago study shows that statistically, the majority of 18-22 year olds will decide they will no longer participate in the faith of their fathers. Why? George Barna reports that yours is a generation that never encountered God in worship, finds it’s strongest ¢â‚¬Ëœtribal connections’ outside of church, felt religious instruction lacked relevance for life, and saw little in your parents practice of religion that compels you to claim their tradition as your own.

I want to give you a piece of ADVICE I was given at your age that made a difference. Though raised in a Christian home, I was ¢â‚¬Ëœturned off’ to Christianity. I felt like the character in “Hannah and Her Sisters” who said,” if Jesus saw the things being done in his name it would make him puke.”

The advice I received? Do not cut yourself off from your spiritual roots. Before you jettison your religious tradition, make sure you understand it for yourself. Until I read the gospels for myself and discovered the radical Jesus for myself, I did not embrace my Christian faith and make my decision to live my life for one I believe died for me and called himself the way the truth and the life.

I am not saying this because God needs a Public Relations expert. I’m saying it because you want to look back on the life you create and say “it is good,” and I believe with all my heart THERE IS NO GOOD LIFE WIHOUT GOD.

In the movie “About Schmidt,” we meet a retired widower who worries about the failure of his life. He says, “I know we’re all pretty small in the big scheme of things and I suppose the most you can hope for is to make some kind of difference. But what kind of difference have I made? When I am dead and everyone who knew me is dead and nobody remembers I ever existed. What difference will I have made? None. None at all.”

Roger Ebert said of this movie, “most teenagers will probably not be drawn to this movie, but they should attend. Let it be a lesson to them. If they define their lives only in terms of a good job, a good paycheck and a comfortable suburban existence, they could end up like Schmidt, dead in the water.”

Finally. In the movie “Bruce Almighty, ” Bruce is allowed God’s power but with one caveat, he can’t tamper with free will. At one point when the love of his life, Grace, no longer wants to be with him: Bruce turns to God and asks: “How do you make somebody love you without affecting free will?” God replies, “Welcome to my world.”

Gradation marks a point in life where you will now enjoy greater freedom from your parents. Even God has given you freedom to make whatever decisions you want. You are free. I am urging you to use your freedom wisely.

Let this be your prayer in old age. “In the beginning, after graduation, when I went out on my own, I created a life. And now I look at all I made of my life and I can say: It is Good.” Enjoy the Good Life, by creating a life with God at the center

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