2017 TLS Commencement Address

From the TLS 8th Grade Baccalaureate & School Awards Ceremony, Friday, May 26, A+D 2017. The baccalaureate speaker for the TLS Class of 2017 was Mr. Demarest.

What are you doing?

I just wanted you to hear that one last time. According to the nice little booklet that I received from you and your seventh-grade classmates a few weeks ago, this is the thing that I “always say.” I didn’t realize that until you all pointed it out. I’m going to have to mix it up.

So, what are you doing? You may think that what you’re doing is graduating. However, in fact you’re not. No, don’t panic. That’s not what I’m saying. But according to proper English usage, a graduate is one who is graduated. Second Form Latin finished off the year reviewing the passive voice. “In the passive voice the subject _____________ the action of the verb.” “Receives,” yes. Good, you passed that little test; we can proceed. In a few minutes here, you are going to be graduated. Trinity Lutheran School is going to graduate you.

Is this just trivia? No, although I suppose it does have something to do with the trivium, that is, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. But what is the significance of this distinction between graduating and being graduated? Why is it important?

Well, first of all, it should remind you that you are not autonomous, not independent. You have been members of a community— a schola— for the last several years. Riley and Isabella, you have been here ever since you began school. J. C., you were only here for one year. Chelsey, Emmy, and Jeana, your total number of years here falls somewhere in the middle. But all of you— each and every one of you— have been educated while here. There’s another passive-voice construction. You have received instruction from your teachers, and diligently attended to such instruction. The fruit of this diligence is knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom. As your teacher, I can say that this isn’t an uncertain hope: I have seen you all grow in wisdom. But I digress: you have been educated here; momentarily you will be graduated from here.

Please don’t misunderstand me: you have earned this. This is an achievement, and I hope you feel good about it. This is an exciting time. In the fall you will begin high school, and there’s certainly much to look forward to. But, dear students, don’t let it go to your heads. On this day, as we mark and seal your graduation, God crowns His own gifts in you. Do you know what that means? It means that you have nothing that you did not receive. You don’t, I don’t— no one does. There was a time when all of us were not. Listen to the the words of the prophet Job:

Thus sayeth the Lord: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Hear the words of the Apostle James:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.

And of the Apostle Paul: “In Him”— that is, in Christ— “we live and move and have our being.”

“From Him my life and all things came / Bless O my soul His holy name,” goes the hymn by Johann Daniel Herrnschmidt.

There is much wisdom to be acquired from such Scripture and verse, godly wisdom indeed. And today you, and not only you, but all of us, would do well to contemplate it. There is no such thing as a self-made man, nor a self-made woman.

This is where much classical education stops: a high, noble, true, but ultimately pagan contemplation of the “God of nature” or just “nature” by itself. True so far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. Here at Trinity Lutheran School, we would be grieved if our students gained no further understanding of the love of God than this. Indeed, we would count it a failure on our part. God is powerful, yes, and He is wonderful in His works. We confess that He made us, our bodies and souls, and all things. But we are fallen! We are sinners! God has every right to be wrathful toward us. None of the wonderful things you have learned here at Trinity matter one whit without the Gospel— the good news that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. Hear the words of the collect for the week of Trinity 10, one of the few that we did not use this year as part of class devotions:

O God, who declarest Thine almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity, mercifully grant unto us such a measure of Thy grace that we, running in the way of Thy commandments, may obtain Thy gracious promises and be made partakers of Thy heavenly treasure.

Power which is manifest in showing mercy and pity. Such a God the heathen, ancient and modern, do not know. Great and powerful is the love which creates; greater still is the love which saves— and this is the love of God in Christ Jesus. Without this, all virtue and goodness is self-righteousness; all truth and knowledge is simply that which “puffeth up”; all beauty is mere vanity.

So, as you leave this place, rejoice in the gifts that God has given you. Rejoice in your achievements, academic and otherwise, and give God all glory for them. Remember that you have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Him: that you use your own power— that is, the abilities, talents, and knowledge with which He has blessed you, and with which He will continue to bless you— use these not to exalt yourself, but to lift up your neighbor.

Congratulations to each and every one of you. I am proud of you.