Writings by Cole Huffman

Two Presidents, One Charge: A Commencement Address

The text of my commencement address to the 2015 graduating class of Evangelical Christian School, which included my oldest son Marshall:

“To the ECS board members and administration; to the faculty, family, friends, and students of the Class of 2015; to everyone who’s had a role in shaping these young men and women; and to those ahead of you who will form and influence you further, may grace and peace be multiplied to you in Christ Jesus.

“I read a few months ago about Steve Sample, past president of the University of Southern California. It was his last commencement address after 19 years at the helm of USC, and he asked the Class of 2010 to consider three key life questions: First, how did they feel about money? Second, how did they feel about children? Third, how did they feel about God? When Steve Sample raised his third question, pin-drop silence. USC is one of those campuses where one doesn’t talk about God so openly. But Steve Sample had been such a competent president and done so much good for the university the quality of his work gave his faith credibility and the USC community listened to a man they respected.

“I want to tell the Class of 2015 something I’ve already told one of your members (I leave it to your guess who that might be). It has to do with credibility and respect. I think I speak for most all your parents when I say we want you to feel about God as we do, that is we want you to love God, whose name is Jesus, though this is the one thing none of us could ever make you do in raising you. Hopefully, over the next four years many of you will realize you do love Him and that you really do want to build your life on the foundation home and church and school have given you, a foundation many people you’ll meet in the years to come will wish they had. Don’t take it for granted.

“But whether you love God or not at this point in your experience, you will be respected by others—which is something you do want—if you are someone others can count on. Even when you aren’t sure you know what you’re doing, you gain respect if you are present to your responsibilities such that other people can count on you. I don’t know that any of us can do this to the fullest without deep dependence on a Savior and His enduring grace. But if you want to know the bulls-eye for gaining and keeping others’ respect—again, something you intrinsically want—others’ respect is about being someone they can count on.

“Pastoral work (my work) may seem cloistered to many, sheltered somehow from the real work of the world, but pastors are realists. We learn quite a lot about human nature. One thing I’ve learned in just over two decades of experience, thousands of counseling hours and conversations: People do not respect people they and others cannot count on. And the person who can’t be counted on hurts himself the most. Whatever pain he puts on others it is himself he hurts most.

“I’m giving you a simple charge but it’s not easy: Build yourself into someone others can count on. There is such a thing as being over-responsible which leads to overload and you don’t want to go there. But building yourself into someone others can count on—it’s not easy to do and neither is it without risk.

“On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot on a Washington DC street corner. He’d only been in office 70 days. The Secret Service agent who pressed him into the back of his limo and got him to the hospital was Jerry Parr, credited with saving the president’s life that day. Parr later became a pastor (which is, you know, what all Secret Service agents secretly dream of—move from the president’s security detail to God’s).

“There’s a fascinating back-story: When he was nine years old, Jerry Parr’s father took him to a movie called Code of the Secret Service, starring Ronald Reagan. President Reagan was an actor before he went into politics. In that movie Reagan played a secret service agent, and little Jerry Parr, sitting in a Miami theater, was inspired by the action of the film to be one too when he grew up. And he did become one—the very one Ronald Reagan counted on when the bullets flew for real.

“Jerry Parr says in his book that when he visited Reagan in the hospital, he said to the president, 'Did you know you’re an agent of your own destiny?', and told him about seeing the Code of the Secret Service movie when he was a kid and setting his intentions on becoming Brass Bancroft, Reagan’s character in the film. Reagan chuckled, 'It was one of the cheapest films I ever made.' And yet for the president, in a roundabout way that looks a lot like providence, it was a role that turned out priceless for what it wrought in a boy who would become the man who would save his life.

“Building yourself into someone others can count on might put you in harm’s way, but it will probably be worth it. Even if your faith isn’t settled right now—maybe it's suspended for the moment—even so, giving yourself to the work of building yourself into someone others can count on is a reflection of the image of God upon you, which is irrevocable, and an imitation of the God who Himself did not take the easy way or keep Himself from risk, but gave Himself and gives Himself still for us to count on, because He does all things well and fulfills every purpose He’s set. Building yourself into someone others can count on is at its best when it’s the action of worship that is responding in love to a Savior whose life you want more of. You build yourself best by giving yourself again and again and again to His way.

“I commend you, ECS Class of 2015, to the grace of God and the fellowship of the saints who’ve set your foundation and line your way and cheer you on. Amen.”  

Posted by Cole Huffman at 11:12 AM
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