I’ve attended a number of college graduation ceremonies, including two of my own. And at every ceremony there’s always been a commencement speech. Yet, until I attended our daughter Christina’s recent graduation from Butler University, I’ve never heard a truly memorable one.
This commencement speech was given by Eva Mozes Kor. She is a survivor of the Holocaust. Every person in Hinkle Fieldhouse was riveted Eva told the story of her experiences in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Because she and her sister were twins, when her family arrived at the camp via train aboard a cattle car, they were immediately separated from their parents and other siblings. Eva and her sister never saw the rest of their family again. They didn’t go to the gas chambers because the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele chose instead to use them as human guinea pigs in his inhuman and evil genetic experiments.
After briefly sharing her story, Eva went on to share with the graduates three important “life lessons” she learned from her life during and after Auschwitz. By this point she had us all ready to not only hear what she learned but, in doing so, find her secret to dealing with the pain, hurts and disappointments everyone in that field house has experienced.
Here are her three simple but powerful life lessons.
Never give up on yourself or your dreams. Never lose hope no matter how desperate the situation may seem. (I might add, never give up on God and the hope you have in Him)
Give your kids, parents and other loved ones a hug every day. Never take for granted that you’ll see them again.
Forgive those who have hurt you. When you forgive you’re no longer a prisoner or a victim.
Unfortunately as Eva’s learned, this last lesson comes at a high cost in return for the high reward of freedom. She has received criticism in the media for her very personal and public forgiveness of Nazi guards at Auschwitz.
After the ceremony we talked about Eva’s message. Christina mentioned how her classmates graduating in her program all commented on how powerful and memorable Eva’s message was. Now to have the graduates really listening makes that speech a true winner and a great example of telling a compelling and personal story that does more than entertain but benefits those who listen to it.
My wife Denise and I just dropped off our daughter, Christina, at college. She attends Butler University and had to be back early because she’ll be a Resident Assistant this year and was starting her training.
Also our son MD will be a junior at Calvin College. He ran for and was elected Vice President of the Student Senate and is at school completing his summer job as well as beginning his “Student Senate” work.
We’re excited about the growth and learning opportunities these experiences will provide our two college students. We appreciate these opportunities because both Denise and I benefited from similar experiences while college students. And the truth is (I maybe committing educational heresy to say this) I learned and grew more as a person through my extra-curricular involvement than I ever did in the classroom
But it’s also why we should be worried about the continuing rise in the price of a college education. Sky rocketing costs have caused both individuals and schools to make drastic changes in how they approach and deliver a college education and the campus experience. Such things as on-line classes, reduction in funding for “student life” programs, more students living at home or in cheap apartments, have all robbed many young adults of these precious opportunities (such as being an RA) to learn the “life lessons” that can only be had outside the classroom.
And for many of these lessons, the college campus is the best environment to learn them. Where else in the world can you try new things, make mistakes with limited down side, and discover one’s passion and giftedness while being supported by an institution whose mission is to educate you?
If education and learning is our real goal (and not just stream lining earning a diploma) then we need to figure out how to make the full college experience available to as many of our citizens as possible. Diplomas and true learning are two different things and we can’t afford, in the long run, to see them as the same. If we do, both our kids and our country will suffer.
Have you ever had the opportunity to talk with someone who has just experienced a true life saving miracle?
Denise and I did this past Sunday when we met with Heather and Jeff Perry in a Starbucks in Carmel, IN. In October Heather was in a coma lying in a hospital ICU as medical staff worked to figure out why her body was shutting down.
The Perry’s literally stood toe to toe with death but God rescued Heather through miracle upon miracle (I won’t share Heather’s story, it’ll be her privilege to do so one day). As Jeff and Heather shared their story and their incredible faith in Christ as well as the faith of family, friends and acquaintances, for a moment, that table in Starbucks became holy ground.
As we talked we began to discuss two questions which I’m continuing to wrestle with.
The first question’s simply “how do people come toe to toe with death, staring it right in the face, without believing in or having a relationship with God?” Maybe I’m just weak but I can’t fathom it. Not because I’m particularly afraid of death but because without God neither death or life has any meaning. As Francis Schaeffer once said, “without God we’re just time + chance + matter.”
The follow-up question is “how does a person come toe to toe with death and then walk away doing so without believing in God?” Trying to answer the existential and metaphysical questions that would naturally arise from having a near death experience would drive me crazy without the foundational knowledge of God.
Yet the overriding feelings Denise and I had as we left the Perry’s was simply a deep gratitude for God’s graciousness and awe of His mighty power in Heather and Jeff’s life. We accepted it as an early and beautiful Christmas gift.
Saturday night Denise and I had a chance to bring parts of our two families together – our immediate and our SpringHill families. In particular we had 18 members of the SpringHill family from the Indianapolis area join us to watch our daughter Christina dance in her first Butler ballet – The Nutcracker.
We had dinner together at a local Butler hangout, Binkley’s, and then went to the evening show at Clowes Hall on Butler’s campus. For Denise and me the entire evening was a blessing and a blast.
Afterwards I thought about how so many people seek a separation between their work and their personal lives. I understand this desire but not always the degree people can take it.
Because there’s something wonderful (maybe sacred is a better word?) when there’s a healthy integration between our work and personal lives. It’s what Denise and I experienced Saturday night. We experienced a great blessing when SpringHill staff, board members and other supporters enthusiastically celebrated with us Christina’s first Butler Ballet.
And it turns out to be more than just one evening, because we have these incredible friends who now know Christina, live near her and will be available to her (and us) during the rest of her years at Butler.
And this would not be possible if I kept a strict separation between my work and personal life.
Yes, it’s healthy to be able to step away from our work, but to build artificial walls between work and personal life isn’t, and often keeps us from receiving the blessings of an integrated life.
To strike the right balance between these two parts of our life requires wisdom, prayer and reflection. But when the right balance is struck, as it was on Saturday evening, it’s hard to imagine living any other way.
This past weekend was quite significant for our family. Denise and I dropped off our daughter, Christina, for her first year at Butler University where she’s in the Jordan College of Fine Arts majoring in Dance Performance.
We did all the typical tasks one does when dropping off a child at college. We put her room together, met and spent time with her new roommate Andrea, toured campus, attended events designed to welcome students and their families and went to the bookstore so I could buy a Butler hat.
During a “meet and greet” of department faculty, Denise, Christina, Andrea and I talked with one particular Ballet professor who asked Andrea “what’s your major?”
“Pharmacy” answered Andrea.
To which the professor said “well you will not seeing Christina during the day because she’ll be training.”
Andrea smiled and didn’t respond; she must have had that look that said “really, dancing all day long?” because the professor added…
Andrea and Christina embracing being Bulldogs
“You see, if you want to be a professional you have to be fully committed, you can’t work at it part-time just like you cannot work at being a pharmacist part-time. There’s no part-time training; one has to be fully committed full-time to achieve such a goal.”
I’ve replayed this conversation in my mind since that meeting and I’m convinced that what this professor said is absolutely true. Whether you are pursuing a career in the arts or the sciences, to become a true professional requires more than just a part-time effort.
The realization then set in – Christina and Andrea’s room will be one focused place for the months to come because these two women have serious goals of becoming professionals in their competitive fields. What a gift…to have such focus at the age of 18.
For over twenty years Michael Perry has made it his mission to bring young people closer to Christ through his Bible study publications, his capacity as the President and CEO of SpringHill, and his recent book, Experience = Everything. Over the last fifty years, SpringHill has changed over half a million lives—proving that it is more than just camp, or a place, SpringHill is a transformative experience.