New opportunities stretch out before graduates standing at an open door.  There are a few pits they should be careful to avoid.  It would be discouraging to focus solely on pitfalls, but a few deserve immediate consideration:

Thinking “I’m finished.” 

There is an old story of a graduate who dashed outside with his diploma shouting, “Here I am world!  I have my A B” (Artium Baccalaureus).  The world shrugged, “Go back, and learn the rest of the alphabet!”  There’s a reason the graduation event is called Commencement!  It is the ending of a small part of your preparation, but mostly, it is not an ending!  It’s a beginning!

School is an intense effort to prepare you, to develop your thinking, to teach you how to relate to others, to equip you with skills, and to develop attitudes you will need throughout life!  Even if we could tell you everything, you couldn’t possibly absorb it.  School is foundational; school is to get you started.  No matter how many times you complete another program of study, graduation does not mean you are finished.

Keep stretching toward new questions, new answers—greater knowledge of our Lord, of His Word, and of His World!

Thinking “I know a lot.”

Education by nature strives to increase your knowledge and through that to transform the way you live.  If, when you started, you knew one billionth of what there is to know, and you now know ten billionths, it’s easy to think about the tremendous increase.  But when you consider all there really is to know, all of us graduates know very little!

Tragically, knowledge can puff up (I Corinthians 8:1).  When you grapple with the need to understand what you know and to learn how to apply what you have learned, the wise man’s admonition to “ponder the path of thy feet” (Proverbs 4:26) becomes vividly alive.  We all need wisdom!  Don’t be too hard on your teachers for what they did not teach you; even Jesus left some things for His disciples to learn later (John 14:26). 

When Jesus finished His earthly ministry, the disciples could not yet see the questions they would soon face, much less come up with the answers.  We hope school has planted a series of questions that will continue to pester you the rest of your life.  Keep stretching toward new questions, new answers—greater knowledge of our Lord, of His Word, and of His World!  May your reach always exceed your grasp!  (Robert Browning)  The Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) draws you onward to “learn of Me” (Matthew 11:29).

Thinking “Everyone must listen to me!” 

Yes, you probably have something to say, but it is extremely important to listen to others.  Until you have listened well, you do not understand the problems, the needs!  Until you have shown others that you really care for them, they cannot hear anything you might say.

Solomon wrote, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2, ESV).  A fool likes to hear himself talk; in fact, Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool uttereth all his mind” (KJV, Hebrew ruach, spirit, feelings).

James 1:19 instructs us to be “swift to hear, slow to speak” (KJV).  Having two ears and one mouth suggests that we should listen twice as much as we talk.  Then having listened and loved deeply, we earn a right to be heard.

You probably have something to say, but it is extremely important to listen to others.

Thinking “Whatever is new is better.”

Conservative means “keep what you have.”  Liberal means “give things away.”  As conservatives, we believe there are values worth keeping, but sometimes that translates into just keeping the status quo.  Conversely, young people can be tired of the old and want to try something new.  Neither is bad in itself.  We need to ask why the values were established and what will happen if we change things.

The old may seem passé, but Truman Wise also reminded us many years ago that there is stability in some old things.  Think carefully about the things you want to change.  Don’t change just for the sake of trying something different.  May the changes you pursue advance toward a worthy goal, but not forsake the most valuable!

Commencement signals that we are beginning, which probably means we are getting ready to do something new!  Heavenly Father, please grant us increased teachability, intellectual humility, a deep hunger to grow!  School can only get you started in what should develop into a lifetime of growing and helping others to grow.  We can escape the pitfalls, not by staring at the pits, but by setting our faces toward a goal.

Please excuse me, I must go pray about my own growth!  I’m still commencing!