For years I misunderstood the word “commencement.” The only time I ever heard it was in reference to graduations, so I assumed it meant ending or wrapping up. The focus seemed to be on students finishing high school or college. Instead, as you probably know, commencement means beginning. When someone offers a commencement address, they’re celebrating not what a student has completed—but the beginning of whatever comes next.
In fact, graduations are rare opportunities to look forward and backward at the same time. Reflection and anticipation rolled into one long moment. Perhaps that's why there’s so much wisdom to be mined in the commencement addresses that float around this time of year.
I read a good post recently, from fellow blogger and mother of many children, Kay Wyma. It had some commencement gems in it: A Few End of School-Year Favs.
And since my husband is the principal of a school that reaches from Pre-K to 8th Grade, he’s always good for some end-of-the-school-year wisdom. This year he shared a story he’d picked up somewhere that struck him as good advice to offer his departing 8th grade. Because our oldest daughter was one of those 8th Graders, I listened extra hard. The story is about looking at what’s ahead of you, as well as what’s behind. It’s about how you frame your own success.
A man was out running one day when he noticed another man, jogging, several hundred yards ahead. The runner could tell the other man’s pace was a little slower than his own and he thought, “Good, I’ll try to catch him.”
So he started running faster and faster. Each block, the runner gained on his unknowing competitor. Soon the runner was only about 100 yards behind, so he really picked up the pace, really pushed himself. You'd have thought he was running the last leg of an Olympic marathon. He was determined to catch the unknown jogger. Finally, he did it! He caught and passed the jogger. He felt so good! "I beat him!" (Of course, the jogger just ran on, never knowing they were racing.)
The runner soon realized he'd been so focused on competing against the stranger, that he'd missed his turn. He'd gone nearly six blocks past his destination. He had to turn around and go back all that way.
Isn't that what happens in life when we focus on competing with others, trying to outdo them or trying to prove that we are more successful or more important? We spend our time and energy running after people who may never even know they’re in the race. And in the process we miss the chance to take our own road.
The truth is—there will always be somebody ahead of you, someone with better grades, a better job, nicer car, or more money. So take whatever you have, your strengths, your weaknesses, your background and personality, and wear who you are proudly; you'll be blessed by it. Stay focused, wish others well, and run your own race.
With that lesson in mind, I hope you'll join me as I celebrate the commencement of Summer Break!