At my granddaughter’s recent high school graduation the keynote speaker, Dr. Paul Conn, chancellor of Lee University in Collegedale, Tenn., offered some succinct, simple, yet profound suggestions on how the students should begin living their post-high school years. As he stated at the start, “My goal is to stop speaking before you stop listening.”
Conn challenged them to “live your life as a statement,” and then described how not to live their lives: “Don’t live your life as an apology…. Don’t live your life as a whimper…. Don’t live your life as an echo.” Since I was attending the event as a proud grandpa, and not as a reporter, I didn’t capture all the veteran educator said, but I’ll share the gist of his meaning.
Let’s start with his don’ts.
By not living life “as an apology,” Conn explained he meant not having to apologize for or give an excuse for being male or female; a specific race or ethnicity; having certain interests, hobbies or passions; or even having certain physical characteristics. As Psalm 139:14 declares, we each are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” so we need not offer any apologies for how God created or wired us.
By not living one’s life “as a whimper,” the longtime college administrator and author urged the students not to muster up complaints or grumble about life circumstances, especially when they don’t always go in one’s favor. My take on what he said was rather than focusing on why one can’t do a certain thing, pointing to obstacles or factors that might stand in the way, concentrate on ways to overcome those hurdles just as many great people have done through the centuries. In the words of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might….”
When Conn exhorted the students not to live “as an echo,” he was encouraging them to not parrot the views and perspectives of those around them, whether they are friends, college professors, the media, even parents. “Learn to think for yourself,” he said, “don’t blindly agree or disagree, or let others do the thinking for you.”
Critical thinking skills seem to be discouraged in many quarters these days, with authorities on any and every topic more than willing to inform us on what we should believe. Romans 12:2 speaks powerfully to this, admonishing, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” A popular paraphrase states it this way: “Don’t let the world shape you into its mold.” The passage proceeds to add, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
But it was Conn’s positive exhortation that stood out most strongly: “Live your life as a statement.” He challenged them in several ways, such as, “Can you dream?” “Can you commit?” He also told them to seek their own answers to the question, “For you to live is…?” Ultimately, Conn proposed, our lives should be a statement of faith – not only in God and His revealed truth in the Scriptures, but also in what we believe He has called and uniquely equipped each of us to do.
I’ve always admired the words of the apostle Paul, who unwavering declared, “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). The apostle was certain about his calling and the purpose God had prepared for him, and pursued it with relentless zeal – even more enthusiastically than he had pursued and persecuted followers of Jesus as a Pharisee prior to his life-changing encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus.
Often commencement messages are filled with lofty, ethereal ideals, kind of a feel-good hurrah for those eagerly waiting to grab their diplomas and embark on their next stage of life. But Conn, the savvy, seasoned educator that he is, packed his brief message with wisdom that hopefully will resonate in the advancing students’ minds for many years to come.
Would that we all would embrace his advice, refusing to let our lives become an apology, a whimper or an echo, but resolving for them to be clearly conceived, resolute statements enabling us to become true difference-makers, rather than difference-experiencers.
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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly published, ”Marketplace Ambassadors”; “Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace”; “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” A weekly business meditation he edits, “Monday Manna,” is translated into more than 20 languages and sent via email around the world by CBMC International. The address for his blog is www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.