Last year, I was among the finalists to be the class commencement speaker for the Class of 2018’s graduation from Grove City College. My proposed speech ultimately wasn’t chosen, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, due to some questions I’ve asked myself about my career path and what brings me fulfillment.
I’ve decided to share it with you here. I hope you can take something away from it.
In about an hour, each of us will cross this stage and receive the diplomas we have worked hard for over the past few years. For most of us, this is the culmination of our academic journey. For others, it is just the beginning. And for others still, receiving this diploma leaves us with a very expensive piece of paper and no sense of direction or purpose. But whether it took you three years or five to earn this degree; whether you majored in Biology or Entrepreneurship; whether you loved college or hated it; I want you to know – your degree is worthless.
Of course, you all probably think that I’m being facetious, or that I’ve simply never left my angsty teen phase, or that I’m just another disgruntled History major. While all of those may be true, they are not the reasons behind my argument. Rather, I hold that your degree is meaningless unless you do something with it. But you can’t just do anything with that degree. There are three things we should aim to accomplish, each of which can be developed from our education here at Grove City. I want you to leave this place with the aims of being Passionate, Compassionate, and Considerate. Sadly, I don’t have any sort of cute acronym I can cram these ideas into, so please bear with me as I elaborate.
First, I challenge you to be Passionate. Have something bigger than yourself making you get out of bed in the morning. Don’t just get up and go to work so that you can afford that vacation, or because you were raised to be a hard worker. Both are fine reasons to work, but they shouldn’t be the only reasons. If it’s within your power, you should do something you are passionate about. Of course, if you need a job to make ends meet or support your family, take care of that first. But as far as you are able, do the work that God gave you a passion for. Of course, what we’re passionate about and what God wants us to do are not always the same thing. For instance, if you’re passionate about Ponzi schemes or selling human organs on the black market, you should probably ignore those passions.
Second, I challenge you to be Compassionate. Christ put it best: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is crucial to our role as salt and light in this world. If we only spend our time analyzing how others should improve their lot, we’re missing the point, and are probably ignoring the log in our own eye. We run this risk when we conflate our faith with politics. God is not a Republican nor a Democrat, an American nor a Russian, white nor black; God is love. Being compassionate means we reach out to others who need it, when they need it, without expecting anything in return. It means we engage in conversations with people we normally wouldn’t speak to. It means we get out of our comfort zones for the sake of others.
Third, I challenge you to be Considerate, meaning you’re (a) respectful, (b) open-minded, and (c) informed. Respectful people are patient and willing to listen to others, and don’t resort to personal attacks. They consider how someone feels about a subject, and why. Second, there is open-mindedness, meaning you are truly willing to consider the views and arguments of others in an objective manner. Remember that just because part of an idea is wrong, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is nothing to it. For example, though on the whole I think Marxism is a faulty ideology, I can’t deny that class conflict played a significant role in human history. The final factor in being considerate is being informed. While everyone forms ideas without first having all of the pertinent information, it is foolish to maintain those opinions without appropriate evidence. Don’t share an article from Breitbart or Buzzfeed without checking its validity with verifiable sources! Part of being informed is being well-read in general. Show me a man who deplores reading, and I will show you a man with unfounded opinions; as Thomas Aquinas said, “Beware the man of a single book.” As Christians, we must do our best to understand this world we are in, but not of.
I stand before you asserting that your degree is worthless, but it is only worthless if you ignore the opportunities placed before you. Every day, you can work at something you are passionate about, and be compassionate and considerate to those around you. If we commit to these three principles, we can not only get more out of our careers, but we can also better demonstrate Christ’s love. Ignoring these principles gives us a narrow view of life, focused only on ourselves.
But how does this relate to our degrees? Over the past four years or so, we have been exposed to various ways of thinking about God’s creation. In the humanities, we learned about the origins and development of our culture. Science, Faith, and Technology taught us how faith and empiricism intersect. In the natural sciences, we learned about how God’s physical creation works. In quantitative and logical reasoning… well… we learned math. But in all seriousness, the liberal arts education we’ve received gives us the tools to engage with our work, with other people, and with other ideas. It’s all just a matter of using those tools, and the choice is up to us.
So remember: your degree is worthless, if you let it be. Thank you.