By the time we arrived at Paulson Stadium at Georgia Southern University, the commencement speaker was finishing up and the highlight for the 2,200 graduates was beginning.
The stadium seats were packed. People stood around the perimeter or sat on the grass, each one eager to glimpse their student walking across the stage.
Greg and I had driven the 45 miles on Saturday morning from Savannah to Statesboro and then idled along the snaking line into the campus to see his nephew take that stroll from student to graduate.
When his name was finally called, Greg waved vigorously and smiled proudly from high above the bleachers as if Jeremy had telescopic eyes and could single him out of the crowd.
“There he goes. See him walking there,” Greg pointed, trying to get me to recognize Jeremy as he walked back to his seat on the football field. We at least heard Jeremy’s name being called and could see him receive his diploma.
One mother, standing next to me, came too late to see her son on the jumbo screen or hear his name called.
“I’ll take pictures afterwards,” she smiled, trying to soothe her disappointment. Fortunately, the threat of rain had given way to a picture-perfect day.
Expectancy, excitement, relief permeated the air. Those are staples of graduation days, and I was reminded again what a special time this is in the life of the one graduating as well as for their family and friends.
It is a time of new beginnings, shining hopes and great expectations. The scene at Georgia Southern will be repeated at elementary schools to universities across the country for several weeks until the last graduating class of 2011 has been celebrated.
Commencement speakers, like Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy at Georgia Southern and First Lady Michelle Obama at Spelman College, will continue to offer encouraging words to students who are preparing to transition from college life to the so-called real world.
I wondered how many students will remember what their commencement speakers said.
At Georgia Southern, Cathy told students that he uses the truths and principles found in the Bible to help run his family’s business, and he gave each graduate a card for a free sandwich.
If I were at Spelman on Sunday, I know I would have wanted to hold onto a copy of Mrs. Obama’s speech. (And I hope the high school students at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tenn., will long cherish the inspiring words that the president delivered Monday at their commencement.)
I thought about what words of hope I might say to a graduating class, and my rambling mind quickly went to Proverbs, which I am encouraging my son to read over the next 31 days as he prepares for his own fresh start. I am reading along with him so we can talk about what we are learning.
I know that learning does not stop when we graduate from high school or college; it is an ongoing process that continues day by day if we are open to acquiring knowledge and understanding.
Also as we read God’s Word consistently and prayerfully, God gives us new insights to meet whatever challenges come our way as we move from one level of life to another.
Integrated in my remarks would be words to inspire students to seek after godly wisdom. Among other hopeful words found in the best guide for living anywhere, I would encourage them to:
· Trust in the Lord with all their whole heart and not cling solely to what they think they know. Proverbs 3:5-6 (CEO Cathy also advised the Georgia Southern grads to practice this.)
· Seek after truth and don’t be deceived by lies and tripped up by worldly deceptions. Proverbs 12:19
· Work hard to fulfill their dreams. Proverbs 13:4
· Choose their words carefully and speak life into people and situations. Proverbs 18:21
Then I would tell them what my brother, Richard, shared with me Saturday afternoon as we laughed and talked in the family-owned import-export store that he manages in Savannah.
“We don’t serve a tee-ni-chee God,” Richard exclaimed, further expounding that our God is limited only by our small thinking of who God is.
I hadn’t heard that word “tee-ni-chee” in some time, but I know, because I heard it growing up in Geechee-influenced Savannah, that it means something really tiny.
I would tell the graduates, and those of us who are still learning and living through constant change, that our God is big and powerful enough to help us embrace our present and anticipate our future without fear.
Trust in God, graduates, and God will direct your path.
What words of wisdom would you offer?