An address to the 2020 graduates and 2021 graduating seniors of the Wimberly School of Religion, May 2021, Honors and Vespers Ceremony
I do not want to put any pressure on you, but I am counting on all you to be and do a lot in the next 50 to 60 years. No pressure at all, but I am counting on you to save human civilization as we know it on our planet. No pressure, but I am counting on you to be leaders for a more loving, just, peaceful, and sustainable world. No pressure mind you, but I am counting on you to transform our world, so that my children, your children, our grandchildren and all generations to come might live in a world that allows for abundant and meaningful life. Now, I am not one to put any pressure on you, but I am counting on you to be the greatest generation in the history of humanity, to deal with the vast and complex global challenges facing all human beings and the rest of life on earth. I am counting on you, no pressure, but please don’t let me down.
You see, I feel like I can have these high expectations of you and for you, because I know from first-hand experience that you are capable of doing all of these things that I am counting on you to do. I have already seen you reach out to others in a time of need and bring love and transformation to their lives. I have seen you challenge this community to live in more sustainable ways. I have seen you educate one another and those beyond this campus about the need for greater awareness of our global challenges. I have seen you have a sustained commitment for justice and peace. I have seen you take on complex challenges and do something about them. I know that you are intelligent, creative, and committed to making a difference in this world. I have seen you be resilient through one of the most challenging years in recent memory and still have the empathy to care about others.
I have seen how fiercely you loved one another as we lost one of the most beloved professors in the history of this university, John Starkey. And we all saw how fiercely you loved and cared for John during the times that became a painful struggle for him. We all saw that you are grace givers, mercy makers, and lovers of persons, especially when they are at their most vulnerable. And not to put any more pressure on you, but I think John is counting on you too because he saw the strength of the love in your hearts and your deep and abiding passion for goodness. As he passed, he knew of your promise and I think that promise gave him peace, hope, and even courage to face the journey before him. And we your professors and staff and family and friends who are here today also daily see you share the love of God with one another and the world. So, you see, I am not exaggerating or joking when I say that we are counting on you to change the world because you have already shown us that you have world changing stuff within you. If this world needs a changing and it needs people to change it, if is not people like you, then I don’t know who it is going to be.
I know that you can do this; I know that you can transform the world, but I also know that it is a somewhat daunting task. There are no guarantees that you will be successful. The future is open, and it is easy to argue that our chances for ultimate failure are larger than the possibilities for success. It only takes a cursory glance at our global challenges to understand why success is not a given.
Let’s just take look at some of the current experiences on this planet that we share together as our only home:
- Approximately 7.86 billion people are living on our planet, and by 2050 there may be 9.5 billion, and there will be need for more food, more access to water, and more energy
- 1 in 3 persons in our world are already experiencing difficulty getting clean drinkable water
- The world is more dependent on fossil fuels for our energy needs than ever before in spite of the environmental consequences
- The gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen, with billions of persons experiencing extreme poverty
- According to security experts, the likelihood that a weapon of mass destruction will be used to attack a major city is extremely high
- Violence, war, and genocide continue to plague our existence within the human community
- In our country, we are experiencing division and polarization that we have not seen in generations
- And lest we forget, we are in the middle of the worst global pandemic in over a century.
Couple these experiences with forecasts of the future such as the one by the well-known biologist E.O. Wilson who believes that by the end of this century 50% of currently existing species will be extinct, and the future does not look bright for us. We may already be experiencing the sixth great extinction in the history of the planet and the only one caused by one species. Will peace be possible in this world? Will justice be possible in this world? Can we possibly live sustainably in this world? We will find ways as a species to survive on this world that we have changed so quickly and so negatively.
Our common task to care for our world is a daunting and complex task, but we know you are up for the challenge. We have seen your commitment to service to transform the lives of persons, churches, and communities. We have seen you and your friends across the university spend literally thousands of volunteer hours to make a positive difference in the lives of persons, both young and old in our community. Your efforts as servant leaders have been a witness to us all, and we are made hopeful even in the face our daunting challenges, because we know that you will be taking this love and concern to the world as you leave our university community and the Wimberly School of Religion.
Thousands upon thousands of lives will be touched in positive ways because you are hearing the call to serve and bring hope and healing to our world. So, once again, no pressure, there is a world to change out there. We are counting on you to do some really important work in the years ahead, but we also covenant with you before God and this community to join with you in this our common task as we go out together to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. May we go forth and share in the holy work of repairing the world. Amen.