Last week Joey had the opportunity to speak at the commencement of our alma mater, Junction City High School. I am so unbelievably proud of him and all of his accomplishments. Unfortunately I was not able to attend, so I got a special, private preview of his speech. I thought you might enjoy it as well.
JCHS 2016 Commencement Speech
One of my favorite stories from the first century is about a pious Jew called Rabbi Akiva. . One evening on his way home to Capernaum, Rabbi Akiva got lost in thought, so much so that he didn’t realize that he had missed his turn. Presently, then, he found himself approaching a Roman garrison. Seeing the wandering rabbi, a Roman guard shouted down to this stranger:
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
Hearing those questions Rabbi Akiva paused and then asked: “Hey, how much are they paying you?”
Confused at the rabbi’s response, the guard called out again:
“WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
Once again the rabbi blurted: “How much are they paying you?”
The guard even more confused stammered: “Who…who are you, what are you doing here?”
One last time the rabbi asked: “How. Much. Are. They. Paying. You?”
Finally, the guard gave up and yelled: “TWO DRACHMA.”
To which the Rabbi proclaimed: “I’LL TELL YOU WHAT. I’LL PAY YOU DOUBLE IF YOU STAND OUTSIDE OF MY HOUSE EVERY MORNING AND ASK ME THOSE TWO QUESTIONS!”
“WHO ARE YOU?” and “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
Like the rabbi, we need to be constantly reminded of our identity and our purpose—of who we are and what we are doing here, because it is so easy to forget. It’s funny how quickly we remember when we leave our Iphones in another room, our keys in the house, or our wallets in our cars. But we can lose our true identity for years without even realizing it and get so lost in the distractions of life that we forget why we are really alive in the first place. Class of 2016, in the next few moments, I’d like to give you a quick reminder of who you are and what you are doing here.
First of all, you are an American. Your roots run deep in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In the ancient world, where one came from determined one’s prevailing purpose, and I think they were on to something. For instance, there’s a story of a man who had traveled many miles to see the notorious wall of Sparta. When he arrived, however, he was confused because he could not see any wall. He found a Spartan and asked: “Excuse me, is this Sparta?” The proud Spartan looked at the foreigner and said: “Of course it is, man!” The foreigner blurted: “Where, then, is the great wall I’ve heard so much about?” As if the answer was obvious, the Spartan began to point to the citizens in the streets. “Here is our great wall,” he proclaimed, “and each citizen is a brick.” The Spartan explained that to be a Spartan was not to be a lone stone but a brick in his nation’s wall that supported the other bricks around him. Each person was essential, he declared, for if one brick were to fall, the entire wall would collapse.
As with the Spartans we draw a share of our identity and a measure of our purpose from being Americans. Like the Spartans we are called to support our countrymen. And we do so by (as we proclaim in the final words of our pledge) pursuing “liberty and justice for all.” After you walk across this stage tonight, I hope you’ll not forget this national calling. We have so many in our own country who still lack freedom and are shackled by injustice. For instance, we will have children in our nation who will fall asleep without having had a single meal today; teenagers in our nation who will be sold as sex slaves in human trafficking; people in our nation who will be still discriminated against because of the color of their skin, and on and on and on. Therefore, wherever you go from here and whatever you do, do not forget who you are and what you’re meant to be doing here, you are an American called to fight for liberty and justice for all—the helpless and the weak, the poor and the powerless, the outcasts and the downtrodden.
Our roots, however, spread beyond US soil. We are not only citizens of this country but citizens of the world. Thousands of years ago Socrates had to remind the Athenians who were so very proud of their heritage that they were much more than citizens of Greece. Pushing back at the ethnocentrism that stained his nation, Socrates urged them: “Do not consider yourself as merely a citizen of Athens, or a citizen of Greece: consider yourself to be a citizen of the world. Centuries later, one of our founding fathers, Thomas Paine proclaimed, “The world is my country and every person is my brother.” Remembering who we are and what we are doing here helps us stave off the disease of harmful Nationalism, which Einstein called “the measles of mankind.” Another philosopher quipped: “I love my country too much to be a nationalist”
You see, we are not only called to be a wall to support our other Americans, but also a bridge to help our fellow man. This is not a call for you to swoop in as a great American hero to save the world, but to go humbly as a global citizen to serve it. And we need you to serve it. New viruses and diseases race through and rack third world countries. Human Trafficking increases. Refugees multiply. Famine rises. And Isis grows. Therefore, wherever you go from here and whatever you do, do not forget who you are and what you’re meant to be doing here. That is, as a citizen of the world you are not called to hide behind a wall but, be it as an ambassador, a businessperson, a missionary or a soldier, to build bridges to confront systems of oppression and comfort the victims thereof.
Finally, our roots not only run deep and spread wide, but they also rise above. As those created in the image of God, our ultimate identity and utmost purpose is found in him. In addition to being citizens of America and of the world, we too are citizens of heaven. More than a civil wall and beyond a global bridge, we are a holy temple. Therefore, we must remember to conduct ourselves as such. As God’s dearly beloved children we are called to imitate him by walking in love. Therefore, wherever you go from here and whatever you do, do not forget who you are and what you’re meant to be doing here, you are a servant of the divine King commissioned to love your neighbor as yourself, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you; to pursue justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before your God.
As a father of five children I am well versed in all things Disney. One of my favorites is the Lion King. I particularly enjoy the turning point of the film. If you will recall, Simba is living a “no worries, hakuna matata” life. He has resigned himself to an “eat, drink and be merry” philosophy of existence. But while Simba was wasting away in his version of Margaritaville, the rest of the world was slaving away under an evil tyrant. One night, however, Mufasa, Simba’s father, descends from heaven to jar Simba out of his self-absorbed worldview.
Mufasa boomed: “You’ve forgotten me.”
Quickly Simba rebutted, “No, father, I could never forget you!”
In return, Mufasa says: “You’ve forgotten who you are, thus you have forgotten me.”
As Mufasa ascends back into the heavens, he leaves his son with these words: “Remember who you are. Remember. Remember.”
And tonight, class of 2016, I leave you with this same entreaty. Don’t lose yourself in our YOLO-No Regrets-Miley Cyrus Only God can judge me-Kayne-Kardashian world. Rather, remember your roots and remember who are: not a lone stone but an integral part of a holy temple, a global bridge, and a supporting wall—loving and serving your neighbor, here and abroad, seeking liberty and justice for all.