Looking toward the next challenge

Published 8:33 pm Saturday, June 4, 2011

Covering the Nansemond-Suffolk Academy graduation for the newspaper Saturday morning and hearing the names of graduating seniors whose parents I went to school with, I couldn’t help but think back to my own commencement there 29 years ago.

I don’t know if this is common, but the fact of the matter is that I remember precisely nothing of that ceremony. I know there were speeches, of course. A close friend delivered the valedictory address, but I couldn’t begin to recount what he said. My name was called, and I walked across the stage (the school held graduations inside at that time), and I received my diploma, probably from Headmaster Bill Owen or maybe from Art Jones, who was then president of the school.

And then, I suppose, it was over. There were surely many hugs and handshakes and some tearful farewells, but a new phase of my life had begun, just as it did for NSA’s seniors Saturday morning and First Baptist’s seniors Saturday afternoon and as it will for seniors in Suffolk’s public schools in a couple of weeks.

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Having attended many graduation ceremonies in the intervening years, I have come to know what to expect from most of the speeches. Fond memories of shared experiences and confident proclamations about the future are the stock-in-trade of such ceremonies, and there’s a tendency to glaze over at the sound of words that have been heard so many times before.

But on Saturday, NSA’s salutatorian, Jeffrey Ruland, said something I’d never before heard during a commencement ceremony. “This is your moment,” he said. “Now go make another.”

Those words speak to me of a basic truth about such events in our lives, and maybe they even help explain my poor memory of my own graduation. This may be the highest point in these young lives, but it should not be the highest in their whole lives. There are taller mountains to climb, greater vistas to see, and when we choose to cease climbing, when we decide to stop at the plateau, we deny ourselves the satisfaction of having conquered those greater challenges.

Perhaps my memory of graduation day is clouded by the many experiences that followed. Perhaps the many friends I’ve made through years of college, career, church, marriage and family have been the new vistas seen from even greater heights than the one where I stood in 1982.

One of those college friends has a son who graduated from a high school in Maryland on Saturday. Johnathan will be following in his father’s footsteps to Virginia Tech in the fall. But this young man, like those in Suffolk on Saturday, is his own person, and he will also blaze his own trail. He will make many new friends and memories, and he will have experiences that eventually begin to supplant those of his own high school graduation day.

And one day, God willing, he will watch his own son walk across a stage, hold out a trembling hand for a diploma and look down from that great height with the confident conviction that the world lies at his feet. And then that new graduate will turn around and see that next lofty peak in the distance.

Congratulations, Johnathan. And congratulations to all those seniors in Suffolk who graduated on Saturday or will do so in the weeks to come. Now go out and make your next moments.