Buchanan High School Baccalaureate Message to the Graduates: Finding Joy
So here I am standing before you. I have known that I would be speaking to
you for a couple of months, but you know how it is a couple of months is a long
time. So I put it off because I had time to work on it later right? Once in a
while the thought of this time with you would flash before my mind, and I would
say to myself, what am I going to say to them? How can I congratulate them and
And no ideas would come to me and I would put it off again. I even sat down
in front of my computer a couple of times to start writing, and I just had no
ideas. You all have had to write papers, you’ve had deadlines, you understand
don’t you? So today just kept creeping closer and closer, and I hadn’t done a
So I thought to myself, I’ll just copy one from the internet. Someone has
to have given a great speech to graduates and I will just use theirs. But then
I realized I was talking to people with cell phones and internet connections
and they could probably just google what I was saying and I would be caught as
a horrible plagiarist. And none of you would listen to what I was saying
because you would know that I wasn’t being sincere.
You see, the thing is, there is so much I could share with you about life.
The wisdom gained not only from my life but from the hundreds of people I have
visited with over the years. I have stood alongside people as they smiled at
their weddings, and I have been at their bedside as they took their last
breath. I have watched people make the absolutely worst decisions possible, and
tried to help them repair their relationships and their lives afterwards; and I
have congratulated people on overcoming hardships and obstacles on the way to
I like to think at least that I have gathered a lot of wisdom over the
years, when it comes to life. I like to think that, and then I try to get out
of the car with my seatbelt still on. [pause] So despite what I have learned I
can still be intensely stupid. But that’s okay, I accept that. It is part of
So here I am with all this wisdom, and all this stupidity, trying to figure
out what is absolutely the most important thing I can say to you and . . .
still blank. So I reverted to being a student and said, maybe if I include a
couple of good quotes, you know with footnotes, and all the bells and whistles
of a research paper I can pull it off. So I went to BrainyQuote.com and typed
in graduation. And there were all these quotes from people much smarter than me
about graduation. You can do that now if you want, while you are listening to
me, there are some good ones there.
By the way my favorite was from Tom Brokaw: “You are educated. Your
certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good
life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to
change the world.” I like that. But as much as I like it, honestly it didn’t
say what was most on my heart.
What is most here, [point to heart] is that you have lives filled with joy.
You see, one the universal things that all people want is to be happy. I want
that, you want that. In many ways that is what the whole purpose of religion
is, the search for happiness. The problem is that life is filled with garbage
that gets in the way. There are things that are beyond our control that bring
us sadness, that cause us suffering, and it can be very hard to find joy in
What I want you to know is that you can find joy. It is possible. Even in
the rough times of life. Have you ever noticed that two people can go through
the exact same thing and one person will overcome it and other will be
destroyed by it. One person has alcoholic parents and it ruins their life, but
another finds inner strength and becomes an example to us all. One person hears
they have cancer and they feel sorry for themselves and it crushes their
spirit, but another faces it and says I will not let it stop me from loving
life. Have you noticed that? Maybe not, but I see it all the time.
How can you be the people that face the tough times in life and still have
joy? That’s where the passage from Philippians comes in:
Be glad in the Lord always! Again I
say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The
Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your
requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then
the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds
safe in Christ Jesus.
From now on, brothers and sisters, if
anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on
these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is
pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.
Quite honestly, it works. By trusting in God, by giving thanks for the good
things that are there even in the midst of the troubles, by remembering that
God is near, by showing compassion to others, by reflecting on the things that
are true and holy, pure and lovely, you can actually change your frame of mind
and find joy when life just plain sucks. Your attitude makes all the difference
between being crushed by life and finding joy. And the single greatest thing
that can help you with that attitude, is God.
I know that religion isn’t really popular now, I know that people kind of
frown on church, and being a pastor I know that religion has its faults, but
the thing is, if you want the peace that exceeds all understanding, if you want
joy that dwells within you not just on the good days, but even on the bad days,
those come from God. There is strength there and power there and hope there.
And I want you to have that joy, that strength, that hope, that peace. I
want you to have that good life. But I can’t do it for you. You have to make
the choice that God is going to be part of your life. You have to allow your
heart to be in touch with the heart of God, to allow your spirit to be in touch
with the spirit of God. I can tell you about it, but I can’t make the
connection for you. You have to do that. And over time when you do that, you
will find your attitude changing and a sense of deep, unshakable joy. But that
is a life’s work. Work that you begin today, as you step out into that next chapter
of your life.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Congratulations on a great achievement.
Focus your thoughts on all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just,
all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. May joy
fill your lives. Not just on the good days, but on all days. That is truly my
prayer for you.