You—or someone you know—may soon be graduating. The time has finally come for the ol’ cap-and-gown routine. I extend my congratulations! You may not have set new academic records or had perfect attendance . . . but you finished. You got it done. You saw it through. I commend you. Your course was lengthy, at times tedious, and occasionally dull . . . but you made it. And soon you will be so far removed from the disciplines of academia, it will all seem a blur.
I want to pass along some thoughts by way of four simple reminders. Let’s call them “commandments,” which apply to anyone graduating—as well as to those of us who graduated years ago. My thoughts grow out of the final four verses of 2 Timothy 3.
1. Don’t stop learning. Paul urged his long-time friend Timothy: “Continue in the things you have learned” (2 Timothy 3:14). It is one thing to take a course, to complete your work, to receive a diploma or earn a degree; it’s another thing to remain a student for the rest of your life, to stay hungry for knowledge, to be curious, to read widely, to be adventurous, to be creative, to be on a never-ending pursuit of truth.
It is not difficult to discern if someone is still learning. There is something exciting about being around them. They are resourceful, interesting, broad-minded, and usually well-traveled. Learners stay open-minded, challenged by life’s mysteries; they’re unwilling to stay glued to a television or to be swayed by majority opinion. They love to think. They are fiercely independent. They read the inscriptions on monuments. They are fascinated by the small print, stimulated by out-of-the-way places. They even like studying maps! No source of information eludes them. And so, graduate, may this truly be your commencement into a quest for knowledge that never ends and is never satisfied.
2. Don’t forget your leaders. As Paul reminded Timothy to continue in what he had learned, he added, “knowing from whom you have learned them” (3:14). There were people who had shaped Timothy’s life, whom he needed to remember, to stay near, to thank.
Graduate, never forget those who played a part in your years of formal learning. Take time, both now and later, to thank them. Take note of what they taught you, both verbally and personally. There is something healthy about keeping in touch with your mentors, calling to mind the things they modeled, remembering the benefits of having been the recipient of their wisdom, their reproofs, their guidance. If you have been blessed to be in the presence of a great teacher, that inspiration will stay with you forever. And so, graduate, as you walk away from those hallowed halls of learning, may the memory of your mentors remain vivid.
3. Don’t discount your legacy. Timothy didn’t just coincidentally pop into Paul’s presence. And his heart didn’t just happen to be open and sensitive to spiritual things. He was the product of a legacy, a spiritual continuum. Timothy’s “sincere faith” had been cultivated by his mother and grandmother who taught him “the sacred writings” (1:5; 3:15). A love for God and His Word and a strong faith in Christ are like priceless batons passed from parent to child in the legacy relay. Paul’s implied admonition was for Timothy to never lose sight of the legacy he’d received . . . and must pass on. And so, graduate, do not discount the legacy of your own life. You are the product of your past, just as Timothy was of his. Though imperfect and lacking in various ways, your parents (perhaps grandparents as well) have marked you, encouraged you, and provided roots for you that have helped you become the person you are today. Do not fail to do the same for your children . . . and grandchildren!
4. Don’t ignore your Lord. As Paul ended these very personal words to his younger friend, he assured Timothy that “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable . . . that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (3:16–17). In effect, Paul was saying that God’s Word would remain a reliable and profitable source of nutritious food that would keep Timothy equipped even when his own hair turned white and legs became feeble. Paul’s words were really a veiled exhortation to stay close to the Lord, regardless. And so, graduate, keep your inner fireplace warm for God. Watch those future decisions that come with strings attached. Steer clear of the thorns that still choke the Word and make it unfruitful. Remember them? They haven’t changed for centuries—Jesus called them “the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19). Stay near the flame of His Spirit, so close you can feel the warmth of His presence, and continue to fear His holy name.
Off you go! It’s cap-and-gown time. Let the graduation ceremonies begin. You’ve worked hard for this occasion. There aren’t many rewards like it in life, so enjoy every minute. But when it’s over and you’re out on your own and that sheepskin gets yellow and starts to wrinkle, try not to let the sands of time erase my gentle reminders:
Don’t stop learning.
Don’t forget your leaders.
Don’t discount your legacy.
Don’t ignore your Lord.