One thing that has not changed at all is that we as a culture love to move on to the next thing, on to the next thing, on to the next thing. You’ve already experienced this, I’m sure. The second you started high school, people started talking to you about college. As soon as you arrived, people wanted to know your major and your plans after graduation. The bad news is that this never stops. After you go on two great dates with the same person, your aunts and grandmas want to go ring shopping, and the moment you are pronounced husband and wife, someone will ask you about a baby.
We tend, as a culture, to be future-focused, on to the next thing, but let’s not be so quick to move past what’s happened here, in this place, in this season. There are some ways of living that you’ve experienced in this context that I believe are so helpful for the new season you’re entering, ways of living I’d like to encourage you to keep for the next leg of the journey.
My hope is that you will never, never, never stop being a student. Some of my favorite people in the world are people who possess an unquenchable curiosity about life, people who, no matter their age or accomplishments, are still learning, still asking questions, still willing to be wrong.
I cannot encourage you enough to continue your own education. Travel, read, ask questions, challenge assumptions, ask for help. Listen to people’s stories, ask good follow-up questions. Never assume that you know all there is to know about a place, a person, or a situation. Commit to being a life long-learner, a person of relentless curiosity.
And become a student of your own developing self. Pay attention to what moves you, what you love, what makes you angry, what makes you exhausted. There are no right answers to those kinds of questions, but if you don’t pay attention, you may find yourself several years down the road, living a life that looks good on paper, but doesn’t ring true to the deepest parts of you. That’s a terrible place to be. Become a student of what you love, because what you love flows out of the way God made you.
Another thing about college life that I would recommend you take with you is a commitment to living in community. The people that you’re sitting with right now are your tribe, the brotherhood and sisterhood of people who know you, who love you, and who will walk with you into an uncertain future. The relationships you’ve formed here are of great importance, and I urge you to continue to value and invest in these friendships and relationships.
Now may be the time to say goodbye to this town and this campus. But absolutely do not say goodbye to the people who have walked most closely with you during this season. This is just the beginning for many of your most significant experiences together. You have just barely laid the foundation—keep building, keep making memories, keep telling each other the truth, even when it’s hard. You cannot imagine how badly you’re going to need these friendships throughout your life. The people you’re sitting with today are your lifelines for the next passage—hold very tightly to them.
College living generally means all your earthly possessions can be stacked up in four crates and a duffel bag. You run a nimble organization, with very low overhead. That’s good. Stay with that for a while. There’s no need for a mortgage and bedroom set and media center. Decide, before you start accumulating things, what you want your life to be about, because you might find along the way that those things you thought you needed end up being the things that handcuff you to a lifestyle you don’t want. Stay nimble with low overhead, so that you can listen closely to the whisper of the spirit instead of the scream of financial obligations.
You may feel right now quite uncertain about the future, and you’re anticipating that one day, things will stop feeling so scary and foreign. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, especially on such a happy day, but that feeling will never come, not when you start your job or find your spouse or buy a home. That wiggly, sometimes scary feeling like anything could happen and you don’t totally know what’s next, that feeling is called life, and it would be best for you make friends with that feeling, because it will be with you for ever. It would be best as well for you to remind yourself that you’re not the only one feeling it. We tend to believe that everyone else has the answers to the most important questions, but I have it on good authority that everyone else is just as scared and uncertain as we are.
Dear graduates, this is the heart of what I want to tell you: God made you. He loves you, and he created you for a purpose. I used to think that purpose was singular—like I was made to be one thing and one thing only. But the more life I live, and the more things I become and un-become as life progresses, the more I realize that he’s not calling me to be a certain thing, but rather that he’s calling me to live a certain way. He’s created me and calls me to address the world’s need with my gifts, with my heart and my mind, with my hands and my voice.
It’s very easy to wait around on the sidelines for your very specific, perfectly-fitted part to play. But in my experience, you might find yourself waiting around for a long time. In my experience, God uses willing hands, not spectacular ones. He uses passionate people, not extraordinarily-gifted ones. We all want to feel that sense of everything coming together, our gifts and our passions and our life experiences. We all want to have that “I was made for this” feeling. In my experience, the way to that feeling is to put on your boots and get to work.
Start where you can, when you can, with what you have. Start with your belief that God loves you, and that he made you on purpose and for a purpose. Not for a moment, but for an ongoing lifestyle of service and sacrifice and vision. Don’t wait around and expect that amazing experience to come find you and tap you on the shoulder. Start making the world better every day, every day, every day, with your hands and your resources and your love and your willingness and your belief and along the way, you will find your place.
-Shauna Niequist, Azusa Pacific University’s 2012 commencement speech