My Last Commencement Speech
Philip W. Eaton, SPU President
June 9, 2012
On June 9, 2012, SPU President Philip Eaton delivered the Commencement address at Seattle Pacific University’s 2012 Commencement exercises. His Commencement address is being published here in three parts. You can also read part 1 and part 2 of this address.
My second paragraph gets a bit more complicated: Sometimes this beautiful, interesting world will veer off into ugliness and meanness, pain and sorrow and loss. Putting out into the deep calls us into the troubling mystery of human suffering. Sorry, but that’s part of the picture. That suffering sometimes will be our own. Sometimes that suffering will be among our friends or family. Sometimes we will glimpse that suffering in the midst of poverty or disease somewhere around the world. The world shines brightly, but sometimes the darkness obscures the light.
And so what do we do with this suffering and sorrow?
Well, I don’t know for sure, but sometimes it helps to say encouraging things to people. Remember to say thank you as often as you can. Be grateful. It also helps to hold someone’s hand when they are hurting. And don’t play power games in other people’s lives — it is always destructive. Be honest, be transparent, don’t be secretive, don’t assume that your title automatically gives you power. It doesn’t. Stay humble. And always, to quote my dear friend Skip Li, remember the poor.
Remember the light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. Putting out into the deep calls us to a life of hope, even on the other side of darkness.
Finally, my third short paragraph has something to do with joy: Let your life be defined by joy and gladness and gratitude. This is a big deal to me, one of those identity things I’ve discovered from friends like John Perkins. And when we discover that deep joy, we want to “gleam it around,” as the black writer Zora Neal Hurston says, we want to “show the world our shine.”
Listen to the way the great poet Jeremiah talks about living a life defined by joy:
They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion,
and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord,
over the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and over the young of the flock and the herd;
their life shall become like a watered garden,
and they shall never languish again.
Then shall the women rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
What an expansive vision of human flourishing. As I step off this stage and into the rest of my life, I want to be “radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” That’s what it means to live in the deep. I would like to participate in God’s big work of turning “mourning into joy,” the work of bringing comfort and gladness, instead of sorrow, into people’s lives, into the organizations we serve, into our communities.
Some of this will be hard work: We’ve got to build good schools for all the children; we’ve got to heal the sick and comfort the lonely; we’ve got to create companies that feel like communities of grace; we’ve got to create safe neighborhoods and strong families. That’s what Jeremiah is talking about. And that’s what putting out into the deep means.
And so I say, God bless each one of you as you step into an exciting new chapter in your lives. In the days ahead, go get some good coffee, and sit down and write your three paragraphs. And as you do think hard about what it means to follow Jesus and put out into the deep. That’s what I plan to do.
And then remember this: If we can do this, if we can get this identity thing right, I am convinced we can change the world. Living in the deep will engage our shallow culture. Living in the deep will make the world a better place for all of God’s children.
That’s what we’ve been talking about all these years, isn’t it?
May God bless each one of you. I love you. I will miss you.