by McKenna Mitchell ’11
2011 Baccalaureate Remarks
Good evening Westmont parents and family, faculty and fellow students. It’s an absolute honor to be here tonight, and I’m proud to stand on the stage with the amazing group of people sitting beside me. I’m blessed by this opportunity to speak, especially because of the tremendous influence this group of students has had on my life. Each of us has stories to tell about our experiences at Westmont, and I’m humbled by the chance to share a few of mine.
One of the best decisions I made at Westmont was to study my way through England, Scotland and Ireland on England Semester 2010 alongside 25 Westmont students and two amazing professors. When we were in Galway, Ireland, the group had a chance to visit a tiny island called Inismor, just a ferry ride off the western coast. A practically treeless mass of granite, the island is bombarded by an absurd amount of wind that tears across its surface. On the very tip, the wind is so strong that to see off the 300-foot cliffs jutting straight into the Atlantic, you have to crawl out to the edge where you lie on your stomach to keep from being flung into the water. It was a rather unique experience, lying prostrate on the ground looking down over the astoundingly beautiful water, granite and sunlight. But the wind was absolutely relentless! My eyes dried almost instantly because of it and still I just couldn’t close them! The grandeur of the moment was too much.
As I rested there, I thought this is what it must be like to be in Christ’s presence: body secure against something eternal, face pressed unbearably in anticipation of what’s to come. It’s not an entirely comfortable feeling. The simple knowledge that standing up would render you powerless in the wind’s strength makes you all the more thankful for the stone beneath you. Ultimately, this metaphor depicts where we as a class are today. Right now, I can’t help but feel the wind of anticipation that both excites and terrifies me.
Our class verse, 1 Peter 4:10, says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Right now that seems like an overwhelming task. Westmont has given us tools to carve and develop these gifts and desires so that we can effectively administer God’s grace as fully functioning adults. While I can honestly say I’m now better equipped to do the work God calls me to, the unknown is killing me. Looking out at the ocean of opportunity after graduation, I’m tempted to close my eyes. I’m even tempted to get up and run away. The problem is, closing my eyes would rob me of the beauty they were created to take in, and trying to stand up and run away would toss me over into the relentless waves.
I have a much clearer choice. I choose to remember the stone I lie on. I must choose to bind myself to it in action and in truth, knowing that without it all my gifts and achievements are powerless and ineffective. What is that stone — or should I say, who is that stone? Christ. Christ is our bedrock. Ultimately, the tremendous plans we have for our futures are merely tentative glimpses into the glory of his Kingdom. Our medical internships in Third World countries, our first teaching jobs, our ascent into the corporate sector — even our jobs at Starbucks — are all meaningless without him but mean absolutely everything with him.
We’ve been through a lot together. Four years ago, we followed the sound of the bagpipes as we entered this small part of God’s plan for us. Between now and then, we learned how to be leaders on teams ranging from an R.A. staff to student government to small groups. We spent a night in the gym learning the value of prayer and community while a fire raged outside. We went away to programs stretching us across the globe from San Francisco to China and everywhere in between. We wrestled with joy and gladness, pain and suffering, and the reality of the brokenness in the world — brokenness redeemed by the power of the cross in which we put our hope. We have become adults here. We have become adults here together. Now we sit here together for one of the last times (like it or not), ready to experience the adulthood we’ve been prepared for.
So, as an adult, what comes next? We’re called to use the gifts we’ve been granted to administer God’s grace, but how are we supposed to do that? What does that look like? When England Semester was in Northern Ireland, we visited a Benedictine monastery devoted to prayer for a reconciled church. We had the privilege of speaking with a French monk who was visibly in love with our God; Brother Thierry had no earthly possessions worthy of envy, no titles or achievements the world would deem great, but I thirsted for the purpose and hope I saw radiating from him. After seeing firsthand the spiritual darkness of a post-Christian society, I asked him how I could help the broken church he had devoted himself to when my home was on the other side of the world. I had no idea how his response would alter my self-perception. He responded to the group of us, “Love. Because when you work on your heart, the world is changed. We love people as we love Christ.” He paused before turning and looking at me directly in the eyes: “You enrich me by just being you. You are Christ to me.”
In two sentences he had crowned me with a title I didn’t deserve and shown me the unconditional love of my Father — a title and love the Body of Christ shares. What if we could look each other in the eyes and with sincerity utter these same words? I know that I can look at this crowd and say sincerely: You were Christ to me when you housed and clothed professors and students who lost everything in a fire. You were Christ to me when I saw you sitting and talking with a homeless woman. You were Christ to me when you challenged the walls I put up in my mind around God’s power. You were Christ to me when I was overcome by the hopelessness I saw in the world and you turned my gaze back to my Father.
But what about being able to say that you are Christ to me when I don’t agree with you? You are Christ to me when you slander and mock me. You are Christ to me when no one else sees your infinite value. You are Christ to me no matter what, no matter when, no matter whom. That is unconditional love – deep love that covers a multitude of sins. That’s our new identity in Christ at work. It’s in the spirit of this new identity that we can be sure this isn’t the end for us, regardless of whether we know how tomorrow will look. A cloudy horizon just makes the reality of the cliff we are bound to all the more precious. We’ve been given the power to change the world because God loved us enough to give us the bedrock of his Son and his identity. Our power is in our God-given ability to love. Some of us may have a plan that takes us through the summer or through graduate school.
Some of us may even have plans that take us all the way through our lifetime. Still some of us could have no plans past the move-out deadline on Sunday. Regardless, whether tomorrow you find yourself at corporate headquarters or in the inner city, there is a richness to be experienced in the love that God will pour out of us. If Westmont has taught me anything, it’s that my responsibility is not to etch my name into the skies of history, but to love.
Westmont College, class of 2011, right now we rest on bedrock in anticipation of a future only God can see. Christ’s love is both the granite holding us and the piercing sun that entices us to marvel at the intricacies of God’s plan. The gifts we have nurtured at Westmont are the kindling for a much greater fire of love God has been envisioning since the dawn of creation. Sisters and brothers, you enrich me just by being you. You are Christ to me. Now, let’s go be Christ to the world.