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.
“I just played my last high school soccer game” our son, Jonathan, said amidst tears and hugs from teammates, classmates, parents, and coaches. Tis the season of lasts for our youngest son as he finishes his last year of high school. Being a 4 sport athlete and highly involved in the life of his school, Jonathan knows he has some more lasts before his year’s done. So based on the sadness he felt after his last soccer game I think he’s already dreading the next major last.
So on our way home from his last game I reminded Jonathan that a season of lasts doesn’t last forever. In fact a last of something means a first for something else. Though I acknowledged to him that early in the season of lasts it’s not always clear what the new first will be. For example Jonathan knows he’ll be going to college, which is comforting at a certain level, but he doesn’t know where. And not having a clear and specific picture of the first can make the season of lasts most difficult.
Yet once there’s clarity about the new first – in this case where Jonathan will be attending college, it’s easy to move from the sadness and loss to excitement about the promise that new first brings. But the key is finding that new first, to have a real and tangible plan beyond the last last. The more specific the plan, the easier it is to have the lasts feel like they’re giving birth to the new first instead of bringing an end to all things good and happy. That’s why this week Jonathan, Denise and I are making our first official college visits. Not to run away from the lasts but to put them into a different light, a light of a new first.
Now this all sounds really good as I’m saying it to a 17-year-old but here’s the real test of my fatherly advice – with Jonathan being our last child it also means Denise and I are also experiencing a season of lasts. After nine high school soccer seasons as a parent, Jonathan’s last game was also our last soccer game, his last basketball game will also be ours, his last day of school will be ours. I’ll admit I’m very sad about it all and already feel the loss that having no kids in school will bring to our lives.
Yet now it’s time for Denise and me to heed our own advice and have a plan and envision a life as “empty nesters”, and to discover our next first. What will it be? I don’t know but I’m excited to find out.
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.