This post was written for the Fuller Blogs website, where it first appeared this past weekend.
It's that time of year again, when graduation looms just around the corner. Even though I myself got my degree from Fuller several years ago, this is a season that affects everyone in the Fuller community. Whether you're a graduating student looking forward to the completion of your own degree, or a current student just looking to get through your current class and perhaps preparing to say good-bye to some of your friends, or a staff member preparing end-of-fiscal-year budgets or closing out committee work for the academic year, the rhythm of the academic cycle ensures that graduation time is an important season for all of us at Fuller.
Among my important influences growing up was involvement in a series of youth conferences conducted by the Montreat Conference Center, arguably the most prominent of several conference centers run by the PC(USA). During an 18-month period that culminated in the summer just after I graduated from high school, I had the honor of being a member of the planning team for the youth conferences that year. One of the activities we arranged for the conference was a concert by a singer-songwriter named Ed Kilbourne, and as part of our preparation for his contribution to the event, we were each given a cassette of his work (yes, I'm dating myself by referencing cassettes!). Besides just singing songs, Kilbourne told stories that had been described to us as along the style of Garrison Keillor, and one of the stories on the cassette I was given told of how Kilbourne had been invited to give the message at a high school graduation ceremony. He told of how he accepted the invitation to speak mostly out of a feeling that this represented an opportunity to "make up" for the speech he had to listen to when he graduated from high school.
I'm sure many of you have had to sit through similar messages. Kilbourne told of how the "important and dignified" speaker came to the podium to elaborate on the obvious message, "Your future is in front of you... and your past is behind you." As Kilbourne said, "he gave the speech equivalent of an airball... he missed everything!"
At Fuller, the message at the graduation service (or, perhaps more accurately, "commencement," but we all know what I'm talking about) is always done by President Mouw. If for no reason other than the fact that he'll want to say something that keeps his own attention rather than just rehash the same thing he's said to graduating students every year for many years now, I'm confident that he'll want to go a bit deeper than the shallow and obvious "future in front/past behind" message that Kilbourne described. Perhaps he'll talk about some specific ministry opportunities that lay ahead for some of our students. Perhaps he'll talk about some of the ongoing realities in our world today and how the world needs what trained Christian leaders have to offer.
I don't know, and I won't presume further to speak for him. While I certainly hope that Mouw's message will be a source of inspiration for listeners rather than a trial to endure, and as obvious as the statement of a future in front of us may be, it does represent the truth of the limitless opportunities that lay ahead. God only knows what specific path each graduate this year will take, but it is my prayer that each of you who are graduating will not only continue to seek God's guidance in that path, but that you will be able to go into that future with the assured hope that God will empower you to accomplish the tasks to which you have been called, and that you will remember fondly the ways in which Fuller has been a part of preparing you for that mission. The future doesn't just "lay there" in front us, but God has granted us the privilege of shaping it.