One Last Swift Kick of Love
Westmont Senior Chapel
April 26, 2002
I am so grateful to be here. When I arrived here at Westmont, you were first-year students. You endured my first semester of teaching here. I still have your e-mails, first friendly but suspicious of the stranger commuting in from far away, then growing encouraging as the semester wore on. You all are my first graduating class, and you’ll be my last for a while. I’ve seen you transform from eager, intimidated freshmen to mature, world-ready, sophisticated graduates. You have no idea how proud I am when I look at your faces. Congratulations.
Augustine said that small children "compel themselves to be loved." You all are grown up, yet you have compelled yourselves to be loved. In my last few minutes with you, I want to deliver one last swift kick of love.
Your lives are about to change in a big way. In your hands are your last chapel cards. On your minds are your last final exams. No more syllabi. No more campus residential policies. No more pre-cooked meals. Even those of you going to grad school are headed for something very different.
Further changes are coming. Many of you will soon start your first real job. The wedding invitations will soon follow, and friends will begin to drop out of sight mysteriously. Many of you will follow them into that strange world, then migrate to a whole new one when your first baby arrives. In just a few years, you will look back on college, and you won’t believe how remote it seems.
Some ways of living you now take for granted will survive the transition, but others are about to die. My question to you today is this: What will die, and what will survive?
You could sell your books, grab your diploma, forget your professors, and end your education.
You could turn in that final chapel card and kiss worship goodbye.
You could begin a career that twists your considerable achievements and talents into arrogant pride, and your festering insecurities into arrogant shame.
You could celebrate your liberation from Westmont’s behavioral expectations, and rejoin a culture that thinks sex without limits is healthy and alcoholism is a way of life, or at least a rite of passage.
You could decide to "graduate" from the church that raised you and helped bring you here, treating it as a glorified day care center you outgrow until you have kids of your own.
And a few years from now, your past life in the "Westmont bubble" would be a hazy and oppressive memory.
However, I have a suggestion. A plea, really, because these are parting words, and there’s really nothing I can do to enforce them.
You could quit whining about rules and requirements you have used as excuses to rebel against your school, your family, your neighbors, and God. Instead, you could apply the wisdom of those rules to your new life, and find in them guidance for navigating a world that no longer protects you from anything, least of all yourself.
You could turn from the hypocrisy you’ve discovered in others who are afraid to face their own sin, and the hypocrisy you’ve allowed in yourself, and embrace the terrifying freedom of God’s grace.
You could accept our apologies for every way we have fallen short and failed you, and you could offer some apologies of your own for every way you have fallen short and failed us, and each other. Then you could begin a new and productive relationship with the college as alumni.
You could stop indulging in senioritis and cynicism. Instead, you could resolve to nourish the habits of trust, curiosity, and hard work that your parents, your teachers, and you yourself worked so hard for so long to form.
You could chronicle the signs of the Kingdom during your time here, make plans for abiding in the Kingdom in your new life, and follow through.
You could remember the remarkable people you have met here, stay in touch, and search for people like them wherever you go. (If none come to mind, then contact me and I’ll remind and introduce you. Every day I’m here, I find myself in awe of someone new.)
You could give thanks for the gifts you’ve received from all those who have sacrificed for you. You could transplant and grow those gifts in your future, so that they would not have been given in vain.
You could end this weird time of shuttling between an increasingly suffocating church youth-group ghetto and the transient Christian community of our college not by trading them for even less, but by seeking out and serving a healthy local church with trustworthy spiritual leaders. You might even discover it in the church of your youth.
And a few years from now, your pain and loneliness would be the distant memory, and you would wonder at how your time of training at Westmont had turned into something robust and beautiful.
Beloved, I rejoice for you, and I revel in you, but I also worry for you. This week and next, you stand on the brink. The beginning of your lives is ending. What will end with it, and what will live on? What will college be the beginning of?