Nearly two million students are graduating from college this month. Appropriately, Time has ranked its “Top 10 Commencement Speeches.” I’d like to explore some of them in light of Scripture.
The best, according to Time (and a variety of other sources) is David Foster Wallace’s speech to Kenyon graduates in 2005. He advises them to be “conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and choose how you construct meaning from experience.” Note the relativism: “meaning” is what you “construct.”
Tragically, Wallace suffered from depression and eventually gave up on “meaning,” taking his own life three years later. By contrast, Jesus called himself “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Would we be wise to ask the Creator how he constructs meaning in his creation?
Steve Jobs advised Stanford graduates in 2005, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” In a culture without “truth,” all we have are “opinions”—in which case yours are as good as anyone else’s. But what if “dogma” is based on divine revelation and the “other people’s thinking” is God’s?
John F. Kennedy, at American University in 1963, made this inspiring claim: “Our problems are man-made—therefore, they can be solved by man. . . . No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.” Tragically, the “problem of human destiny” that Scripture calls “sin” led to his assassination and stands beyond human solution (Romans 3:23; 6:23). The good news is that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
By contrast, Conan O’Brien was surprisingly biblical in speaking to Harvard, his alma mater, in 2000. He warned that “as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed.” He reviewed the setbacks he had experienced and said that “every failure was freeing.” Then he concluded, “that’s what I wish for all of you: the bad as well as the good. Fall down, make a mess, break something occasionally. And remember that the story is never over.” He’s right—God redeems all he allows.
So here’s my advice to graduates (and the rest of us): Find meaning in Scripture, basing your life on divine revelation and trusting the Spirit to transform your fallen spirit and redeem every circumstance for God’s glory and your good. As you do, follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” And, I would add, the leadership of your King.