Of Graduation, Extravagant Gifts

BFA Class of 2012

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21 (italics mine)

“I think, I think, we can keep it under an hour. It’ll be tricky, but worth it, right?” Activities Coordinator looked thrilled at the thought of a graduation ceremony lasting less than 60 minutes.

Three years ago, I sat in a meeting with the class officers and Activities Coordinator, planning the commencement ceremony for the Ingraham High School Class of 2009. She’s been working with excellence at her position for many years now, and knows exactly what belongs in the ceremony and what doesn’t. Student speeches are trimmed, guest speakers all but eliminated, and musical performances carefully screened for length and content. The goal, she told us, is for graduation to be “simple, clean and elegant.”

She succeeded marvelously at Ingraham High School all those years, no small feat for graduating classes of 250 students, many of whom are the first of their families to receive a diploma. In an era when graduation can be as gaudy and hollow as a Superbowl halftime show, Ingraham’s commencement was always an efficient taste of traditional grandeur, honoring to the hardworking graduates at the end of four years of public high school.

This afternoon, as I sit near the back of the graduation ceremony at Black Forest Academy, it occurs to me that efficiency isn’t the goal here. We’re well into the second hour before the guest speaker–a beloved former Vice Principal–begins reminiscing about teaching these students’ eighth grade social studies class. Yet what we’ve lost in speed, we’ve gained in depth. At BFA, graduation is rich and long, a time that honors not only academic achievement, but the unique role that each graduating senior has played in this community. In front of gathered friends, family and teachers who’ve invested in them, the seniors are individually affirmed in their character, praised for what they’ve added to the fabric of our school.

As I listen to the tributes for each of the 60 seniors, starting to imagine the school without them, I’m struck anew with the meaning of the word–commencement–and the beautiful thought that these students, in all their variety and talent, are commencing together on multifarious journeys that will take them far beyond all even I can imagine for them today.

This all been more beautiful than it had to be. Graduation can be sparse and elegant like Ingraham’s, or endlessly full of cliche. In the end, all the students really need is the piece of paper, saying they’ve done enough to leave with the school’s blessing. As someone who chose to vacation in Italy rather than return for college graduation, I can attest that the ceremony doesn’t even need to happen. I’m still a college graduate. A graduation can be less than this.

So the “more beautiful” of this ceremony is a gift, a perfect reflection of these students and this community, equally gifts of extravagant loveliness. As they walk across the stage, one by one, I recall times that these students surprised me with their depth,  sincerity, and above all their passionate love for Christ and for one another. These two years have meant far more than instructional hours to pass along information. We have met over coffee, runs through the forest or long bus rides, at every point sharing, with laughter and sincerity, what it means to pursue Christ in a broken world. I will miss them, these now-alumni, but I am overwhelmingly thankful for the more-than-I-expected gift of this time they’ve spent with us.

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