Delivered at Commencement May 4, 2013
By President Gayle D. Beebe, Ph.D.
Your class verse is from Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs is one of my favorite books, and after I had confessed faith in Christ, the elder of our church who discipled me encouraged me to read every morning the Proverb that corresponded with that day of the month. He advised me to make it a base of my life, a place to which I would return year in and year out, month in and month out.
The book of Proverbs is based on the idea of cause-and-effect reasoning: If you are good, in general, good things will happen; if you are evil, in general, evil things will happen. This understanding doesn’t predict everything that will happen, but life usually works this way.
Thankfully, God has also placed in his holy word the book of Job, which reminds us that bad things also happen to good people and leaves us with the problem of evil and suffering. This year, we’ve been marked by the reality of evil and suffering, but the goal of life—and certainly the goal of a Westmont-educated graduate—is to gain perspective in life, to recognize how we can place things in our favor by being good, by choosing to follow wisdom, by gaining insight and honoring God. But we also know the reality that evil and suffering come to all of us.
Thankfully, rarely do we all grieve at the same depth or at the same time. Grief and sorrow affect us at levels that we can endure only because those around us come to comfort us, to encourage us and to support us.
As I reflected on your class verse and thought about our time this morning and my opportunity to send you off with one final word, I remembered that a year ago Alex Moore wore his academic gown, marched in this processional, anticipated a recovery from his upcoming surgery, and expected the birth of their first baby. Kim Kihlstrom, who’s on the stage with us this morning, marched as well with the computer science graduates and looked forward to the wedding of her son, Kevin. Kenon Neal, who works in our advancement office, enjoyed the festivities with no idea what would soon confront her. And Nick Davis was headed home at the end of his junior year. Now Alex and Nick have passed, and Kim and Kenon face huge uphill battles with cancer.
But layered into all this sadness are incredible and profound experiences of joy and hope. One source of happiness was the women’s basketball team and their national championship and the men’s polo team and their national championship. Other blessings include the birth of Alexis Moore, the completion of your college years, and the anticipation of the years to come.
In the midst of all this, I hope you begin to realize that life provides us with the opportunities to either draw closer to God or to turn away. So often the only thing we can control in the midst of our suffering is the response we make to it. I often think of both the triumphs and tragedies of my life as my sacraments of the present moment—they either help me draw near to God or cause me to turn away. I have found that if we go deeper into our experiences of life, we come to see, understand and experience the reality of God that is the most sustaining and powerful force to which we can attach our entire life.
But if we remain on the surface and simply coast through life, we never gain a deeper awareness of its spiritual and intellectual realities. We miss the source both of joy and of abundant support as we face all that life holds. I know that life brings great joy and it also brings great challenge. You have been given a foundation to face both the joy and the challenge. As you go forth today, may God go with you, may you always learn to follow him and may you fulfill the purposes to which he has called you. God be with you.