Excerpt of a Talk by Daniel Gee ’13, First Senior, Kenneth Monroe Award Winner, and Monroe Scholar, at the Academic Awards Convocation in April
At this time of year, when men and women dress in colorful robes and sport mortarboard hats, a specter haunts Westmont. Here, the word in the air is success. We recognize academic achievement, people of exemplary character and acts of service, which is well and good.
But when we honor success, we’re acting on an underlying notion of what it is. So how do we define success at Westmont?
Let me share a paradigm of success that has grown and corrected me time and again. I have found several definitions to be good, but ultimately fall short: success as “academic achievement,” “getting the most out of your college career” or even “making an abundance of friends.” These are all good things, but must we achieve them to be fulfilled at Westmont? Don’t we always feel like we’re missing one more thing, like that experience abroad or a double major?
But what if success were faithfulness? What if success meant simply offering your best to whatever, wherever, God calls you? What if it’s being loyal and reliable to the relationship or task at hand regardless of what people are doing around you?
What convinced me of this? First, I witnessed the overabundance of good things at Westmont—and the emptiness of trying to do them all (echoes of Ecclesiastes). We are blessed with many enriching activities here, but don’t we often wish we could do more? To affirm all these good things, I concluded that different people are called to different things. Success at Westmont is not checking off the 101 things to do before you graduate but being faithful to what you are able to do and are called to do.
Second, I witnessed the great power and profundity of typically unnoticed actions. One of my favorite examples is the chapel set-up crew. They wake up at the early hours of the morning to lay the mats, set up the chairs and mop the bleachers so we can enjoy chapel together. By contrast, everyone notices Chapel Band, and we’ve received many encouraging words from our peers. So who’s more successful, Chapel Band or set-up crew? Telford Work would say that the answer is, “Yes.” Aren’t we both being faithful to the task we’re called to? Surely, then, our definition of success must affirm the equal importance of both the seen and the unseen.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about faithfulness while at Westmont. First, it looks different for different people, and we should have humility and grace when we inevitably size up others and affirm the legitimacy of various ways they seek to be faithful. Can we affirm both the student who feels called to commit spring break to Potter’s Clay as well as the one who recognizes the need for a mental and physical break at home?
Second, instances of faithfulness are rarely quantifiable. You can’t put them on a resume, but they can still be some of the most worthwhile things you’ll do at Westmont. We often plan our schedules around quantifiable activities or programs, but how often do we leave room for spontaneous instances of faithfulness: bringing a sick friend breakfast or taking the time to help clean up after an event? I will always treasure the memories of my friends filling my room with notes on my birthday, bringing me flowers for my concerts, or staying up late to talk and pray with me.
Finally, faithfulness, and thus success, is more than just accumulation. I hope all of us leave Westmont more mature, intelligent and equipped than before. But if I walk across that stage with just a diploma, I’ll be disappointed. Even if I graduate with a wealth of new knowledge, with some of the best friends of my life, with new skills and abilities, and a grown and matured character, I’ll have missed out. Building a better me strikes me as not only selfish, but simply boring. When success is faithfulness, giving ourselves is just as important as growing ourselves, and I hope I can look back on Westmont as a time when I did both.
I believe that a fundamental calling on our lives will be learning to live faithfully in every context, from the most momentous to the most mundane. For when we seek to live faithfully, mundane moments are no longer mundane, just as faithful prayer that moves hearts and heals the sick could hardly be called mundane. Seniors, what will faithfulness look like when, for probably the first time in 15 years, we’ll no longer have the structure of academia to schedule our days for us?
Finally, faithfulness has power because it derives from and responds to the steadfast faithfulness of God himself. The good news is that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13) and that Christ promised his Holy Spirit would be with us always to empower us in this challenging call to faithful living. So may our acts of faithfulness resonate with the refrain of our hymn: “All I have needed thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”