By Joey Heath-Mason*
To the graduates of the class of 2020:
I offer a most heartfelt congratulations. You have done something incredible. You are a graduate with a degree or diploma that will go with you from this day forward. That is something to celebrate and worthy of marking this important moment in your life, even if we can’t do it the way we had hoped. It is important to mark these milestones because they serve as a reminder of where we have come from and what we walked through to get here.
I am reminded of the Israelites in Joshua 4 picking up stones from the middle of the Jordan and placing them at the place where they camped that night. The stones meant so much more than just having crossed over the Jordan into the promised land; that was just the final step. These stones were to serve as a reminder of the long journey that they had taken as a people to arrive at that day. They also represented the hopes and dreams of those that had come before them and a sign of hope for the new future they were walking into.
In the same way, your graduation is not merely about the moment you would have walked across the stage. Your graduation marks the countless hours over years of hard work and perseverance. It acknowledges that you have walked through the stress and anxiety of papers, group projects, essays, and exams, and you have come through to the other side. This is not something to be dismissed because it is a true accomplishment.
Graduation also marks a new you. Three, four, five, or however many years ago, you embarked on this journey of education, but also transformation. Your education has transformed you and prepared you to take on new challenges, and there will certainly be challenges in the coming days.
That doesn’t mean you have all answers or even know what the next step is. But then, most of us on the other side of graduation don't either. What this transformation means is that you have been prepared to go take on the challenges of the world with new knowledge that you might not even be fully aware that you have.
Think about Peter and the other apostles as they stepped into the new world of the church post-Pentecost, with Jesus instructing them to go out and share the good news. With three years of lessons and hours of demonstration from Jesus, there still wasn’t a clear roadmap for how exactly they should do it. Guided by the Holy Spirit, they stepped out in faith and, because they did, the church grew and countless numbers came to know saving grace.
You are now being called to go out into a brave new world (when it is opened again) and get to forge a new path. No longer are you the students; you are the shapers of the world around you. You get to challenge the status quo of those of us who are stuck in our ways. You get to experiment in new ways of being and living. You get to try to correct the world and set it right. This is an enormous gift.
In closing, this day might be coming without the pomp and circumstance that you have dreamed about, but make no mistake, it is here. In the ways that you can, celebrate, and when we can do so safely, celebrate again because you have earned it.
Once again, congratulations!
*The Rev. Joey Heath-Mason is an ordained Elder in the BWC and the United Methodist Chaplain at American University in Washington, D.C>