Dear Boyce College Graduates,
This morning you’ll rise with a rush of excitement mixed with a few unnecessary nerves. You’ll mentally rehearse the big event as you dress in your regalia, get your hat and tassel properly arranged, and somehow get over that momentary feeling of silliness that always fades as graduates start feeling like medieval university vestments are just what they should be wearing on this kind of day.
Then, as you make your way to the official lineup, you’ll meet smile with liberated smile as you pass friends, classmates, and all the visitors flooding this historic campus on this momentous day.
Finally, you’ll march — behind the faculty, who will soon cede the way so that you can find your own; into the chapel, where a great cloud of witnesses will cheer you on; across the stage, where you’ll receive a symbol of what we hope you’ve become; and out into the world, where you’ll spend the rest of your lives still marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.
This place where you’ve studied is a fine place; this day on which you’ll graduate is a fine day; and that city toward which you march is infinitely finer still.
But don’t forget why you came here, and why you’re leaving.
You didn’t just come to soak up the light. You came here to pierce the darkness.
You agonized and applied and waited and enrolled and studied and served and worked and endured — with too much caffeine and too little sleep — because you believed that a torch without darkness is like water without thirst. You worked the counter at Chick-fil-A or the graveyard at UPS or the grounds crew on campus because you believed that souls imprisoned in the domain of darkness can be transferred into the kingdom of redeeming light (Colossians 1:12-13). You kept going in the face of financial challenges and family troubles and roommate conflicts and romantic confusion and spiritual warfare because you believed that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
You came here to get sharper, and brighter, because you knew there was darkness, and you wanted to pierce that darkness.
You had a calling when you came. You still do.
Now, you know what our campus (and every other Christian campus in the United States) has been called by its students. You know you’ve had the debate, at noon in the cafeteria or at midnight in the dorms. You’ve said it and your classmates have said it, and we all know that the students who came before you and those coming after you have had, or will have, their turn. “This is a bubble,” you’ve said. “The holy hill,” they’ll say.
Sometimes you’ve simply bantered, about the Christianese or the unspoken taboos or the cookie-cutter personalities. Other times you’ve complained far more fervently, agonizing over what you perceived as a holy huddle doing little good for that darkened world beyond the invisible walls that seem to surround every sanctified institution.
Well, now’s your chance. It’s your turn to leave the greenhouse. Christ has been discipling you for this day, class by class, roommate by roommate, semester by semester.
Each day, indiscernibly but unmistakably, you were growing sharper and brighter, and not just so you could polish your résumé or get into a master’s program or live in a nicer neighborhood. You were getting sharper so you could pierce, and brighter so you could shine. You were getting sharper and brighter so that you could pierce the darkness.
So what are you going to do?
Never forget: At the center of your education stands the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of the Son of God. The moment he took his final breath, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom, and the way to God was opened. Then three days later, the instant he took that first gasp of resurrected breath, he tore a gaping hole in the darkness that for so long had suffocated the children of men. His light is now pouring in from the future age where he resides, and all whom it awakens are beginning to breathe again, see again, and live again.
This is why the sons and daughters of God, torchbearers of truth and love, make the most illogical of directional choices: the choice to sprint back through that ever-widening hole, eager to light the very darkness from which we ourselves were freed.
I don’t know what the darkness will be for you: the hollowed psyche of a rebounding foster child; the bleak prospects of an opioid-decimated town; the religious confusion of an animistic village; the shared bondage of pimps and prostitutes; the hardened soul of an agnostic university professor you’ve come to love. I don’t know whom you’ll have the chance to reach. I just know you’re going to have the chance, and the choice.
I’m not saying you need to go with the hardest option, or choose the most difficult path every time. I certainly don’t want anyone launching out with a martyr’s syndrome or a messiah complex. But I do know that you’ll often stand at the intersection of decisions where you’ll get to choose between dwelling comfortably in your own little biosphere of light or tearing a gaping hole through its glistening walls and stepping out to pierce the darkness.
I hope you have a great day, filled with all the ceremonial rewards your honest toil has earned. I hope you find it in yourself to smile and say “Thank you” when your family tells you how proud they are. And I hope you know that those who didn’t live to see this day would’ve been proud, too.
I also hope you don’t trip on the way up the stairs, because I know you’ll worry about that beforehand, and I hope you’ll walk away with every photo you wanted to take, because I know that’ll cross your mind after.
But after all these things, and beyond all these things, I hope you’ll take all you’ve learned and all you’ve become and do that one countercultural, counterintuitive thing we’ve been training you to do since the day we met: join the dawn of God’s inbreaking kingdom, use every ounce of your virtue and skill to pierce sin’s darkness, then chase that darkness around the globe like a happy sunrise chases the night away.
Congratulations, students, and Godspeed.
Until all things are new,