This is text from my commencement address to the Tianjin International School class of 2014.
Parents, teachers, board members, distinguished guests, It is my honor to be able to address you tonight but, in reality, I’m not here to speak to you today. You see, I have a unique connection with this class… we started High School together 4 years ago, first period. They were my very first class here at TIS and I was their first HS teacher. We have been through a lot together in the last four years and have grown close. We started together, and tonight we are leaving together. This is the last chance I have to address them as a class so, really, this is about me and them, about us. This is my final lecture… you are of course free to listen in.
Graduates… we made it! I want to keep this short so I’m not going to recount all the things we’ve experienced together… we’d be here all night. But, there have been highlights. We’ve studied together, argued with each other, (about doughnuts, for some reason, more times than I can count) we’ve challenged each other, inspired each other, made each other better people. We’ve climbed in, around, over and through mountains. We have traveled countless miles together by trains, planes, buses, boats, bikes, kayaks, surfboards and by foot. We have swam together in rivers, ponds, mud-filled pits, oceans and even the occasional swimming pool. We’ve spent more hours bent over a foosball table than I want to count and many, many, more were spent in conversation. You gave me a nickname… I’ve never had a class do that… at least not one they would say to my face. It has been an amazing four years.
Most recently we traveled to Sanya together. We had a great trip and many more great conversations. We spent time affirming each other, healing wounds and hopefully learned a few things along the way. Our theme for the trip involved wisdom and it may have seen strange at the time that I didn’t lead any of the discussions… I was saving it for tonight.
So, our theme was wisdom… specifically – we wanted you to be able to exercise wisdom in life by asking yourselves the question: “What is the wise thing to do in this situation?”
Good stuff, there were some really great talks but as I reflected about it on the bus from YaNaDa I realized that as good as that question is, it may not always be helpful… that we didn’t necessarily give you any way to know just what the wise thing is. For example, how do you choose between two things that both appear to be good, to be wise? I mean how do you choose between Kaist and MIT, between Yale and Harvard, between Krispy Crème and Duncan Donuts? How?
Tonight I want to give you a tool that can help… It’s another question, but that shouldn’t really surprise you. You’ve heard me ask it often.
That question is; “Why?”
It’s an amazingly powerful question because it cuts right to the heart of the matter… to the motivation behind things. Many people ask “Why?” all the time but unfortunately very few people actually take the time to find the answers to it. That’s what I’m challenging you to do… find the answers.
You see, in life pretty much everyone knows what they do on a daily basis. Some even know a little bit about how they do it… I say some because how many people really know just how an internal combustion engine works let alone a smart phone.
Very, very few people know why they do what they do. Oh sure, they may know in some general sense that they do it to make money, or produce a product or, whatever… but is that really why they do it? No, that’s a result of them doing it… not their purpose for doing it
That’s what the “Why” is really… your purpose, your cause, your belief. It answers the question of why you get out of bed in the morning and why anyone should care if you do. It is the spark that motivates you to do what you do and how you do it… it’s part of your core being and everything radiates out from it through everything else.
Now, what does this have to do with wisdom?
First, if you seek the answer to “why” you will begin to understand the motivations behind actions… you will be able to start looking at people and events from the inside out and truly understand them… this will enable you to make those tough wise decisions.
Secondly, if you know your own “why” you are able to use it to focus everything you do and wisdom will come naturally because that where wisdom resides… at the core of things. If you go through life focused simply on the “what” and the “how” you are going to be trapped simply responding to circumstances as they happen to you. If you focus on the “why” the “what” and the “how” will naturally fall into place and, you know what else will happen?
If you know your why, you are going to be a societal influencer… People will follow you because people will see that you know what you believe in because you live it and that will inspire them… people follow those who inspire them.
Knowing your “why” is absolutely essential to being a lover of truth and the very heart of a spiritual discerner.
Ok, that’s the end of the lesson today… pretty simple really … ask why and know your own why to grow in wisdom, but… as in any good lesson we need to work on applying it or you’ll forget it right away. Let’s practice with a few concrete examples.
Hmm, what’s a good why question?
Ah, I have an appropriate one… since you’re graduating today and all.
Because you needed an education?… no that’s more of a what, a result, than a why.
So you can go to a good college?… also, hopefully, a result.
So that you can be prepared to live a successful life? That’s not too bad… but what does that mean, “a successful life?” Does it mean that you make lots of money, have a big house, drive an Austin Martin, that everyone who’s anyone knows who you are?
Maybe. Some would define a successful life as just that.
Those are all things, milestones. Success is not a thing… it’s a journey… or rather, how you travel that journey.
Personally I define success two ways…
First, success is found by following your calling… not simply your passions. What’s your calling… good question. Your calling consists of three things.
First, your spiritual giftings… those things that you are naturally able to do. That you are naturally good at and never really remember learning how to do. You’ve been blessed in your time here with many opportunities to find the areas you are gifted.
Second, your personality type… you’ve all taken many of these tests and should have a pretty good handle on this one already. You know how your personality affects who you are and what you are comfortable doing.
Finally, your ministry passion or your people group… that place where you find the most pleasure in serving.
You mix those three things together and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you were created to do. Oh, and if you look closely at it you know what else you will have found a big piece of? Your “why.”
In listening to all of your senior presentations last week I know many of you are already on this path… for example, going to a top engineering school so that you can learn how to make better and cheaper medical devices in order to help the poor and elderly… yep, that may be a calling. Going into hotel management because you honestly want to serve people… Yep. I could go on and on because you each had something but… well, there’s cake waiting.
If you follow your calling you will find success… it may or may not come with an Austin Martin but you’ll be happy and fulfilled either way.
My second definition of success is to live your life worthy of the price that was paid for it. This may mean different things for each of you but I tell you, it’s one that at times keeps me up late at night. You see, as I see it the price that was paid for my life was incredibly high… the Son of God died so that I might live. He came to Earth to take the punishment that rightfully was mine so that I may have eternal life… I can’t imagine a higher price could ever be paid, but paid it was, for me and for you. I know many of you don’t believe it but that doesn’t change the truth of it. Live worthy of the price that was paid.
Let’s do one more example just so I know you’ve got it.
In just a couple hours you and I are going to be walking out of the doors of this building and into vastly different lives. You are going to find things out there are a lot different than they look like from in here. TIS is a very unique place and I guarantee there will be a time where you will look back at your time here and question Why it was so different. Why did the teachers give you more time and attention than your professors do? Why did people treat each other the way they did? Why did so many of the teachers give up very successful careers and move so far from family to come here and teach you? Why did some of them become more like family and friends than teachers?
I hope you will search and find the answers because I can’t answer all of them for you… I can’t speak for all of the teachers and staff and parents who have paid dearly to come here to teach you but I can answer it for myself.
It is because we, because I, love each and every one of you and I long for nothing less than to spend eternity with you.