ConGRADulations

by Phil Baker

It’s graduation season. “Pomp and Circumstance” is in the air and I just watched my nephew turn the tassel. He is the first of my 7 nieces and nephews to do so. So attending graduations will be an almost yearly tradition for the next decade.

It was surreal being back in my hometown watching from the football field bleachers the ceremony I had participated in [REDACTED] years ago. We arrived an hour-and-a-half early to save seats for the rest of the family. This was a good idea as the stadium was quickly packed with family and friends. The ceremony started and the graduates were marched in to cheers and shouts for attention from camera-ready parents. Various academic honors were highlighted with their respective recipients standing in recognition (I recall remaining seated during my entire graduation). Then the graduates lined up to receive their diplomas. Within an hour it was all over. The celebration moved to the parking lot where pockets of family gathered around their freshly graduated son, daughter, niece or nephew, posing for pictures. I’m sure this made them feel like a Hollywood celebrity.

Several speeches were made that night making mention of pages being turned, chapters ending and beginning, memories made and futures dreamed of.  As we left I couldn’t help but wonder how different these students felt as compared to an hour or so earlier. Had anything transpired to make them smarter? More mature? Taller? Of course not. The transition marked that night was just a symbolic threshold of what had taken years to accomplish. And it was the entrance to a new life.

Life is replete with such ceremonies – birthdays, anniversaries, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras. But the truth is such transitions happen in their own time. They happen by our own development…and by our own decision. You can choose to be smarter. You can choose to be more mature. You can choose to be taller (Okay, maybe not physically. But how about socially?). Before each of us is such a threshold. With each new day God has given us, we can turn a new page, start a new chapter and step into a new future. On New Year’s Eve, this threshold is much more visible. We make a decision to pass through this threshold and start a healthy habit or end a bad one. And at the first occurrence of failure we give up and walk right back through that door into our old life.

When signing a birthday card, I will often write “Happy Personal New Year”.  I do this because I see January 1st as an arbitrary date to mark the start of a cyclical calendar. Why not July 2nd*? Or March 4th**? Or April 1st***? It is just as arbitrary for starting a new life. Each of us has our own date that marks the next year of our life. So why does our new life have to start on January 1st? Or why does it have to start on our birthday for that matter? Why not tomorrow? Why not today?

What threshold lies before you? Will you walk through it? You will have some failures on the other side. But just as the class of 2016 can’t move backwards, neither should you. Turn your back on your old life. You’ve “graduated” from that life. Keep moving forward. Oh, and Happy Personal New Year!

John 9:4

Romans 12:2

2 Corinthians 4:16

Hebrews 3:15

 

*the 182nd day of the calendar – halfway through a 365-day year.
**My birthday.
***New Year’s Day in the Roman calendar. With the adoption of our current Gregorian calendar in 1582, those who still celebrated the new year on April 1st were seen as “fools” thus April Fool’s Day.

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