Way back in 1979, the troubled filmmaker Woody Allen published a darkly comic essay entitled “My Speech to the Graduates.” Filled with existential dread, the speech begins with this inspiring message: “More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”
I couldn’t really blame this generation of American college graduates if they shared some of Allen’s dread. Their infancy, after all, was marked by the culture reeling from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Their childhood by the seemingly boundless greed that led to the cynical manipulation of the American home mortgage market and sent the world into a global recession that altered the lives of millions.
Their education has made them aware of the extreme climate change that threatens the future of the planet, the ever-growing economic divide between those with access to the world’s resources and those without, and the legacy of racial, class-based, and gender oppression that has limited the ability of millions to fully participate in their societies. In the midst of all of this turmoil, we search—too often in vain—for civic, political, and religious leaders with enough of a sense of the common good to lead us. Perhaps it is only appropriate that they are graduating from college in the midst of a global pandemic.
Some of these students came to Point Loma Nazarene University. And some who came chose to major in Journalism, Broadcast Journalism, Writing, Spanish, French, English Education, and Literature. Those of us on the LJWL faculty have had the remarkable privilege of welcoming these students into our classrooms, into our lives, and into our hearts where, along with the students who have come before them, they have taken up permanent residence. What would I want to say to these students on the event of their graduation?
Loma makes some bold, even audacious, promises. We promise an education in the midst of a vital Christian community, indeed, a Christ-centered education. We promise a faculty and staff who will not only attempt to educate them but will offer our very lives as models for how they may be molded and formed into the likeness of Jesus whom we confess to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And we promise not only to graduate them, but to send them into their society with a sense of vocation, a sense that they have made progress in becoming the people they have been called to be in Christ Jesus. I pray we have made good on these promises to the class of 2020.
“I pray we have made good on these promises to the class of 2020.”
As much as I draw inspiration from gazing west from Loma’s campus out over the daunting Pacific, I must confess that my favorite view from campus may be seen while standing facing east from the northeast section of the campus around the area of the Ellipse Chapel of my home church. On a clear day, the view of downtown San Diego is a mixture of awe-inspiring beauty at the culture and civilization human beings have created in this place and intimidation that can come while contemplating the needs of the people walking those streets, working in those offices, and living in those homes and unsheltered on those streets.
The view of the city puts me in mind of a song I first heard in junior high back in the early seventies, One verse of the remarkable song written by Noel Paul Stookey (the Paul of Peter, Paul, and Mary) asks, “And I was wondering if you had been to the mountain / To look at the valley below? / Did you see all the roads tangled down in the valley? / Did you know which way to go? / The mountain streams run pure and clear / And I wish to my soul I could always be here / But there’s a reason for living way down in the valley / That only the mountain knows.”
My prayer is that Loma has been a kind of mountaintop for the class of 2020, a place of reflection where they have more fully come to understand the gifts they have to offer the world and have developed the ability and skills they will need to offer their gifts to the world. In short, I pray they have deepened their sense of vocation as Frederick Buechner thought of it when he wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” May the graduating class of 2020, may we all, find the balance between doing what we most deeply need to do and what the world most deeply needs done.
When the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah felt called by God to address the members of his society sent into exile in Babylon, those living in a society that was not truly theirs, a society that did not share their foundational values and priorities, he gave them remarkable advice. He did not tell them to withdraw and place their hope solely in some future world for which they waited. Nor did he tell them to withdraw into themselves. Nor did he tell them to nostalgically long for what they had lost and hoped someday to regain. Rather, he told them to seek the welfare, the peace, the shalom, of the society where God had sent them into exile. For in the shalom of their exilic home, they would find their own shalom.
I believe that Jeremiah’s message to the exiles is Christ’s message to us. We are called to seek the shalom of our society even while we await the coming of our true home, the already here but not yet fully realized Kingdom of Christ Jesus.
Among those in exile were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah who were offered a fine education in preparation for service in Babylon. They were taught “the literature and language of the Chaldeans” (Daniel 1:4b) as you students have been taught the literature and languages of your society and the societies you hope to communicate with and serve. You have started down the road of lifelong learning as you continue to read the stories of others, tell the stories of others, and articulate your own story—what you have experienced, perceived to be true, and felt most deeply.
“It is the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the church in Philippi: ‘I thank my God in all my remembrance of you … For I am confident of this very thing, that God who began a good work in you [all] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.'”
My prayer is that Loma has prepared you for service, for your vocation. My prayer is that you have also learned what Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah learned from their faith community—the difference between the worship of God and idolatry, for you will be tempted, as we all are tempted, to worship that which is not God.
My speech to the graduates isn’t like Woody Allen’s even though I am often tempted to view the world as offering little more than a choice between utter hopelessness and extinction. My speech isn’t like Allen’s because it is not a speech but a prayer.
It is the prayer of the Apostle Paul for the church in Philippi: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that God who began a good work in you [all] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:3-11).
Dr. Karl Martin graduated from PLNU with a degree in literature in 1981. After completing a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and teaching elsewhere for 10 years, he returned to Point Loma as a professor in 1998.
Cover photo by Janessa Lin (20).