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President Thomas Addresses the Graduates of Crean Lutheran High School

June 05, 2021 - 8 minute read

Dr. Michael Thomas addressing the graduates

As I begin this Address to the graduates, I want to pause for a moment and say, “congratulations.”  I know that you will hear this often today.  But of all years, you need to absorb that word.  It’s been a very hard 15 months.  We’ve all endured a great deal, but you, the graduating seniors, in particular have borne a heavy burden.  There have been losses, to be sure.  And we could all recount them… But there have also been opportunities to reset and to think about what truly matters.  Today’s Graduation Address will be about that… what matters.

As you leave Crean Lutheran High School today, as graduates, the world is open before you.  It sounds cliché, but it is true.  It doesn’t mean things will be easy… far from it.  This year has reminded us of that fact!  Many paths will open; others will close.  You will choose between many doors on this journey… and as you chose one, the others will disappear in your past.  This can be paralyzing OR it can be exhilarating.  Today, I hope to offer you a little advice as you embark on this amazing journey of life after high school.  Whether you are leaving for college in a few months, starting a new career next week, leaving to serve our nation in the Armed Forces, or taking a gap year … this advice doesn’t have an expiration date.  

Congratulations … Of all years, you need to absorb that word.

New York Times’ columnist, David Brooks, in his book titled, The Road to Character, emphasizes what we Lutherans call vocation or one’s “calling.” 

He notes that in our culture we fixate on building our résumé virtues.  What is your GPA?  What is your favorite academic subject?  Where do you go to school?  Did you make varsity?  And questions that you now are getting:  What college are you going to?  How much scholarship money did you secure?  What position did you land?  Which branch of the military did you choose?  What are you doing during this gap year?  

Later in life these questions will include: What do you do for a living?   Where do you work?  What neighborhood do you live in?  And if someone is rude, they might ask: How big is your bank account?  

President Thomas

Some of your résumé virtues are now, and will continue to be, really important.  They just are.  If you have the proper balance in life, your résumé virtues will be built on your God-given talents and skills.  Indeed, one’s calling in life, as it is expressed as an occupation—be it a student, accountant, teacher, scientist, officer, merchant, principal, or professor—is a gift from God, and we should celebrate the gifts that God has given us.  In many ways, this morning’s ceremony is focused on celebrating résumé virtues.  Certainly, each one of you has earned these accolades!  And we want to celebrate all that you have achieved! 

But as you know so well, your teachers, coaches, and staff members at Crean have striven to educate you holistically, as a whole person:  forming your mind, body, heart, and soul.  Certainly, they have educated you academically, by forming your minds.  Through varsity sports and extracurricular activities, such as choir, music, theatre, dance… your bodies have also been formed.  

However, Crean is a Lutheran high school.  Here you have been introduced to the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You have been confronted by the reality of our sinful nature that seeks always to put ourselves at the center of everything.  And you have heard the proclamation of God’s free gift of forgiveness that sets us right with God and with each of our neighbors.  

Your hearts and your souls have been formed.  Your hearts, as you’ve been encouraged and empowered to love your neighbor as yourself.  And your souls, as you’ve been challenged to contemplate a life of devotion and love for God.   

So you see, your Crean education has been so much more than just building up your résumé virtues.  The faculty have tried to instill in you a deeper appreciation and awareness of what David Brooks calls the “eulogy” virtues. 

Today, we are celebrating a long list of academic achievements. And in the next decades, you will build impressive lists of résumé virtues.  But I challenge you to keep this question at the forefront of your mind: At the end of your life, what will your eulogy virtues be?

How have we served others?  How have we lessened the suffering around us?  How have we brought hope to the world?  How have we loved the unlovable?  These are eulogy virtues.  Why are they called eulogy virtues?  These are the things people will say about each of us at our funerals. 

Résumé virtues are certainly important.  Yet, a deep, meaningful, and fulfilling life is ultimately found in our eulogy virtues.  And you already intuitively know that they are more important!

I bet if I would have sent each of you a questionnaire asking you to provide five highlights from your time at Crean, you might have listed maybe one résumé virtue.  Perhaps, your GPA, your favorite class, your just-announced scholarship package.  But I surmise that you likely would have spoken about friendships made your freshman year, mentoring by a beloved faculty member, relationships with staff or coaches, the way your character, values, and morals have been honed more precisely, or perhaps you might have even listed spiritual encounters with our Lord

President Thomas

The heuristic device provided by David Brooks, which divides résumé virtues from eulogy virtues, is very helpful to keep in mind as you contemplate your future.  Today, we are celebrating a long list of academic achievements that you have collectively accomplished as Crean Lutheran Saints.  And in the next decades, you will build impressive lists of résumé virtues.  But I challenge you to keep this question at the forefront of your mind:  

At the end of your life, what will your eulogy virtues be?

Through your formative time here, the faculty and staff have challenged you to think deeply about your various divine callings.  Certainly your occupation will be one of those callings in life.  But you will have many other vocations or callings: son, daughter, friend, and perhaps someday spouse, parent, etc.  

So what is the practical lesson of all of this?  Ultimately it’s about finding balance in life.  It’s about discovering that sweet-spot where your God-given talents match your career path so that each day just seems to be in a groove.  And allowing God to work through you to carry out His will in this world.  

It’s also about discerning what is really important in life.  A few minutes ago, I mentioned that you will have many vocations in life.  The plural, vocations, is significant.  You’re a son or daughter to your parents, a friend to your friends, a fellow student to your classmates, perhaps an employee to a boss, etc.  Later in life you might be a spouse, parent, etc.

What is really important—and really practical—is what Lutheran theology teaches about balancing out various vocations.

Consider the following:  I am the President of Concordia University Irvine.  That is one of my current callings.  While it is my occupation—and one that I dearly love!—, it is only one of my callings.  I am also a professor to students, a member to my church, a son to my parents, a brother to my siblings, a dad to my kids, and a husband to my wife.  

But what is really important—and really practical—is what Lutheran theology teaches me about a balanced life—about balancing out my various vocations.  While I have many callings, some can be done by others.  Many people can serve as the President of Concordia.  Many can serve as a Professor of Theology and Classics, etc., etc. But only I can be the father to my children.  Only I can be a husband to my wife.  

But that’s not the way the world thinks.  The world prizes résumé virtues.  But this way of thinking is practical in terms of providing a work-life balance… and it is Biblical!  And it is a divine gift from our Lord… for it authorizes me to prioritize what Brooks calls my “eulogy” virtues.

Having been formed at Crean Lutheran High School, I have no doubt that you will strive to live a self-examined life, as Socrates urged.  And a sacrificial life, as the Lord Jesus Christ himself modeled, for he came “not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”  Now those are eulogy virtues!

And we know, you are the ones who will carry the mission of Crean Lutheran High School into the world.  And we know that the Lord will use you…each of you… to serve as his hands and feet to bring hope to a world that is in desperate need!  Please however take this fact with you as you leave campus this day:  Crean Lutheran is a better place because you were here!  

While each and every person gathered here today is exceedingly proud of all you have accomplished, we are more proud of you for the people you have become!

On behalf of the faculty, coaches, and staff of Crean and of your family and friends, let me state that we are so very proud of you.  Proud of you for all that you have accomplished; we are here to celebrate all of those achievements!  Before you leave campus today, let me challenge you to thank those special mentors who have poured themselves into you!

Graduates of the Class of 2021, allow me to close this Address by letting you in on a little secret… listen carefully to this: While each and every person gathered here today is exceedingly proud of all you have accomplished, we are more proud of you for the people you have become!  

May God bless each of you!

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