Class of 2014 Graduation Address by Mr. Jeremy Benedict
I would like to start out by thanking everyone for being here today. This is an important day in the lives of these young people and the support that you all are showing is monumental in their lives. I would like to thank the Class of 2014 for allowing me to be here and to speak to you. I consider it an honor and hope that God will use my words to stir something in your young hearts going forward.
I'm going to be honest, I can't believe that you sit out there, mere minutes away from being graduates. I remember picking up sweatshirts and coats left in the hall in 5th grade and then putting them on and walking around the classroom as if they were mine to try to show you responsibility. Now, those were mostly Pablo's sweatshirts, but sometimes Anor's also. I remember being told on multiple occasions, "that's not how Mrs. Callaghan did that. " To which I would respond, "do I look like Mrs. Callaghan." To which I would get several different responses. I remember the great "pants" debacle of 5th grade where, somehow, multiple boys got their pants switched during gym class. It took weeks to sort it all out. I remember a certain student always being at my desk when the Packers beat the Bears, just standing there. Ready to say, "hey Mr. Benedict, did you see that game yesterday?" Knowing full well that I had and that I wasn't happy about it. These are just some of the things that I remember from the last 4 years. And I'll tell you, nothing they teach you in college prepares you for trying to figure out whose pants are whose. Now, here you are, the graduating class of 2014. Honestly, I had hoped that I would be invited back to speak at this graduation. That being said, as this day drew closer and closer, I found myself at a loss for words. Shocker, I know. Besides a bunch of stories and memories, I wondered what I could possibly have to say to you guys that I hadn't already said--and I've said a lot, especially at the start of 5th grade, right girls? I may have even gotten to the point of worrying about this very moment. Can you believe that? The guy who always told you before speeches: be prepared and you will have nothing to worry about. It's not that I have a fear of public speaking, it's more a worry of the substance of the message that I wanted to give you. So, I guess it's a good thing that I didn't have to rely on myself for this occasion.
In Hebrews chapter 12, Paul talks about the race of faith that every person runs. Verse 1 and 2 are as follows: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." Class of 2014, you are about to start another leg of your "race of faith". Now for those of you that aren't runners or racers, a leg means a section or stretch of a race. You have finished this portion. Some of you spent more years at St. John's. Some of you, not so much. Some of you left and returned. But all of you were given a gift here at this school. You were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. People that helped you through some very tough times. People that are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but nonetheless, people that have been around the block a time or two. And for some of you, this is the last time you may see some of these people. For some of you, this may be your last day of Christian education. You will go on to public high schools and universities. You will go on to secular work places. However, it is my prayer that you will not forget the lessons that you learned in this very building. It is my prayer that you will not forget the lessons you learned across the street or in the gym next door, the classrooms surrounding us and the playground out back. It is my prayer that you don't forget the people that have supported you in your race of faith. It is also my prayer that you would not abandon this faith.
2nd Thessalonians is a New Testament book that deals with this very topic. The church at Thessalonica was a very new church and therefore the Christians there had a very "new" faith--not unlike yourselves. Now, new doesn't mean that they were incapable of anything. In this case, new meant that the church members would possibly be easily swayed when it came to false teachers/prophets/magicians/etc. Once again, not at all unlike what you will face in the coming years. As I stated earlier, many of you are going to public school next year. Some or most of you have never been to a public school before. You are going to see and hear things that are similar to what these young Thessalonians saw and heard. And, like Paul's feelings for the Thessalonians, you will have people praying and worrying about your well-being. It is my prayer today that you hold fast to the faith that has been growing in you since your baptism. But, this also means that you will have a great opportunity. You will be coming in to contact with people that may not know Christ. You have the opportunity to be the witness to those people. As Nehemiah stated, "The joy of the Lord is my strength." Show those people the reason for the joy that is in your heart and subsequently that it is what strengthens you. Show them that God is love.
As I just mentioned, Paul spends time praying for the people of Thessalonica. He spends time warning them of what they are up against. Chapter 3 begins as follows: "Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ." Paul understands that as mere humans, we are not able to keep the faith at all times. That is, we alone or by ourselves. But thanks be to God. He is, as stated earlier, the "author and perfecter of our faith". Class of 2014, the devil is out there. As Peter says in 1 Peter Chapter 5, he is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Will you be on your guard? If you remember anything that I say here today, it is that you are not alone--which gets me to my final point.
I want you to take a second to turn around right now. Take a look at the people that fill this sanctuary. Find those special people in your life that are just beaming at all you've accomplished so far. Look at your teachers and pastor. All of these people are here because they love you. I am here because I love you. There is nothing that these people wouldn't do for you. Just like the Thessalonians had Paul and Silas and Timothy and others I am sure, you have all of the people in this sanctuary as well as, I'm sure, others that couldn't be here today that wish they could have. These people in here today will not cease in praying for you. These people in here today will not cease to love you. These people in here today WILL continue to teach you in your moments of need, as long as you remember that they are there and that you are not and will never be alone. There may come a time when it may seem like these people aren't there anymore. Well, don't you worry, Paul had that covered as well. 2nd Thessalonians Chapter 3 Verse 3 says, "But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one." I'm sure you've all heard the old adage, if you feel like God is far away, guess who moved? God isn't going to leave you. He is not going to let you go it alone, ever. That is why he has placed these wonderful people in your lives. So please, do me a favor before you go to sleep tonight. Before you lay down your head, thank the people that have made a difference in your life. Thank them and then know that they will be there for you. Those of you out in the crowd, you know what this group of young people is up against. You know that the world can be a wonderful place, but that it is far from perfect. Please, continue to love, cherish and fight for these people. Give advice to them. Don't feel like you are overstepping your bounds. They know that you love them and don't want to harm, but only to help them.
As I struggled through the writing of this message, scripture began to flood my heart and mind. The reason for this you may ask? The studying of scripture--the imprint that Christian education left on my heart--the role models and people that I had and still have praying for me today. So I tell you, do not abandon that. Stand firm. Looking out to tomorrow, I command you to be strong and courageous--as the Lord commanded Joshua. You have been given much and to whom much is given, much is expected--as Jesus says in Luke. Never grow weary of doing good as Paul says in Galatians. And never, ever forget that you have people in this very sanctuary that are praying for you and will be encouraging you for the rest of your lives--including myself. And, if even that fails you, which at some point it may, if you feel alone and that others have abandoned you, always remember what Moses told the Israelites right before his death and then subsequently what God told Joshua: "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." I congratulate you Class of 2014. You are an incredible group of young people that I feel blessed for having had the opportunity to teach. You have taught me a great deal. So, go, do AWESOME things, you are all destined for such. Thank-you.