Sunday, May 14, 2017


Good evening. 

Tomorrow morning at eight sharp Reagan & a host of other young people will, the Lord willing, graduate from kindergarten. A few hours later, sixty-one teens with whom I've spent many hours this past year will officially cross the threshold that's been in their sight line for some time now & graduate from high school. 

Actually the teens will *officially* cross the threshold around seven Tuesday morning when they can pick up their diploma after a night of revelry. If you don't hear from me again, it's because I foolishly have decided to join them for as much of the revelry (the school-sanctioned revelry) as my thirty-six-year-old, heavily-caffeinated self can stand. I'm letting my heart lead on this one rather than my head.

My head says, Fool! You have to attend Henry's end-of-the-year party Tuesday morning & then read essays to determine Honors English placement for the incoming freshman class. My head also remembers the months I spent half-functioning on three-ish hours of sleep a night when my babies were, well, tiny babies, so I like to think I have it in me to chill with the teens until at least three or four in the morning. We shall see. They have their youth, but I have the fortitude that comes from birthing & living with infants. Instructions are to dress comfortably, be ready to stay up all night, be prepared to sweat, & bring a sleeping bag & a change of clothes, so it sounds a lot like parenting. 

Over the last week I've seen, via social media, photos of some of the seniors in their caps & gowns & various other regalia designating their many honors & accomplishments. Several of them returned to their respective elementary schools to walk the halls in their caps & gowns, & others were honored at their churches last Sunday morning. As is my custom, I crawled in bed last Sunday afternoon. Everything was in place; the kids were situated & happy, I was snug in my hoodie, & a hot cup of coffee was on my nightstand. I opened my laptop & was confronted with a few images for which I was not emotionally prepared. I think I made a few audible noises.

I was again assaulted one afternoon after school last week when I opened Reagan's folder & saw this:

I guess it's not the equivalent of seeing a bride in her gown. Maybe that's a fair comparison. The green robes will be aplenty tomorrow, as will be my emotions. What is it about seeing someone with whom you're so familiar in a cap & gown? It's just fabric & a silly hat. Cognitively I recognize that I am only responding to the collective cultural significance we agree to assign to the cap & gown, but again my head & my heart are affixed in their respective corners, vying for my attention. My head says, Stay calm. Don't ruin your mascara. It's a robe. My heart overflows. It's a safe assumption my heart will have a long & dominate day tomorrow.

To all those graduating tomorrow, I have just a few things to say. I speak as someone who's been where you are - - - 



- - - & I speak as someone charged with teaching you, molding you, loving you. To give credit where credit is due, I must admit most of what I have to say comes from two brilliant men: Homer & Steve Jobs. The flowing green robes that have been flapping in my face for a week now brought the following Homer quote to mind:

Like leaves on trees the race of man is found, - Now green in youth, now withering on the ground; Another race the following spring supplies: They fall successive, and successive rise 

Commencements always, always direct my thoughts to the commencement address Steve Jobs delivered at Stanford in 2005. All credit for the bulk of content in this blog - as well as the devices in my life that keep me organized, functional, & happy - is due to the late Mr. Jobs. 

First, graduates, I'm going to tell you what countless people told me before my wedding day: Take a few minutes to slow down & enjoy it. Sit down & close your eyes. Open them & look down at the rivulets of green fabric covering you. Color symbolism makes me giddy & I love that your robes are green. Green is a versatile color; it can connote growth & newness, as it does in the Homer quote, but also money or jealousy. Who among us doesn't immediately think of the green light at the end of Daisy Buchanan's dock, taunting Gatsby as he reaches back to the past in an attempt to secure an unattainable future? Reject what Gatsby did not: the notion that longing for & attempting to recreate the past or excessive amounts of money can bring you happiness. Tomorrow, as you squeeze that green cap over your head & slip the robe over your shoulders, congratulate yourself on what you've accomplished, say thanks for the memories you're taking with you, & look to the future, understanding that you're still a sapling, not yet firmly planted, & remain humble & ready to grow. 

Second, take a cue from Jobs's exceptional speech & understand the power of stories. You should read the speech in its entirety; click here to do so. The first thing the seniors wrote for me was a narrative essay. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've said, Narrative means story. I asked them to tell me a story, & some of them told me such a compelling story it immediately & forever altered our relationship. Stories are powerful. If you don't believe me, read the New Testament or spend time with a child. Statistics are all fine & good, but during the State of the Union address, the president always tells a story, & then has the protagonist (or the spouse of the deceased protagonist) of the story stand to a rousing round of applause.

Steve Jobs tells three stories in his speech. The first is about connecting the dots. This is the story of his adoption, his decision to drop out of college, & a few other puzzle pieces that eventually came together to form the complete picture of Steve Jobs & the tremendous impact he had, & continues to have, on the world. The second story is about love & loss; it's the story of how he discovered & then rediscovered his passion in life. The third & final story is about death. 

My third & final piece of advice to those of you who'll move your tassels tomorrow is to live every day with the following pieces of advice from Jobs guiding your thoughts, actions, & decisions:

You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future . . . 

. . . Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. 

I'd add to his thoughts that you are not only going to die, but you are going to stand before your Creator. 

He continues, & I don't know if he knew this or not but he strongly echoes Homer's quote above:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. 

I've always been a Steve Jobs fan. I think I cried a little when I learned of his death. His beginnings were humble; he details them in the speech. He was adopted. Mr. & Mrs. Jobs weren't supposed to be eligible to adopt him because his birth mother insisted he be placed with college graduates; she eventually relented when she was promised he would attend college. He did attend college, but he dropped out, continuing to attend only those classes that interested him. Some of what he learned in those classes impacts almost all of us every day of our lives. I think Jobs was a genius, but there are a lot of geniuses running around Silicon Valley. I think, in addition to his obvious talents, Steve Jobs understood the need humans have for beauty & for simplicity, & I think he brought this understanding with him to his work & it shows in Apple's products.

Tomorrow you, Reagan, & you, seniors, will be cloaked in green robes. You'll all look the same, but the robes will mask a sea of differences, & knowing you as I do, I know how dramatic some of those differences are. Hidden under a few robes will be insulin pumps working furiously to mimic the pancreas. Hidden under other robes will be scars, both physical & emotional. Hidden under layers of clothing & bravado are fear, worry, & uncertainty regarding the future.

I can't connect the dots for you.  I can't do it for my own children & I can't do it for you, seniors. The unwed, pregnant young lady who wanted her child raised by college graduates didn't know either; she could not see how the dots connected. Steve Jobs didn't know when or how he'd use some of the information he gleaned dropping in on college courses, but he went because he was driven by intellectual curiosity to go.

Dots can only be connected in retrospect, so when the picture is unclear, pray, & try & make decisions using a healthy balance of your head & your heart. Remember Jobs's path to success when you're frustrated: an unplanned baby given up for adoption, a college dropout, a man fired from the company he helped found. Success rarely comes quickly or easily. Remember what Jobs understood about human nature, as evidenced in his life's work as well as the speech he delivered at Stanford: people respond to stories, to beauty, & to simplicity. You'll spend a great deal of the rest of your life dealing with people - your friends, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your employees - & a basic understanding of human nature will help you tremendously in those interactions.

Above all, remember Jobs's words about death, which claimed him a few years after he delivered the speech from which I've borrowed so heavily. Death is the great equalizer. For all his ingenuity, Jobs could not save himself; he could not design or build anything that granted him even one more day of life. Your time on earth truly is short & it passes quickly. From James 4:14: ". . . you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away." Make wise but bold decisions while you're here, because your time here is limited but your influence need not be. The most important decision you can make is to bow your knee to your Creator now & live in a way that honors Him.

Another race the following spring supplies: They fall successive, and successive rise.

This is your spring; tomorrow is your day. Rise to the occasion, meeting it with grace & humility. I'll end where some of us began, with the epigraph from Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, taken from Ecclesiastes 1:4-7:

One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it arose. The wind goes toward the south, and turns around to the north; the wind whirls about continually, and comes again on its circuit. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place from which the rivers come, there they return again. 

I'm proud of you, I love you, & I'll see you tomorrow.


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