Presidential Speeches

Baccalaureate Reflections

Hope and a Future

May 22, 2011

President Jo Young Switzer

It is hard not to worry. Gas prices are unbelievable. Terrorism threatens our airports and trains and cities. Jobs are hard to find. A few of you may be worrying this very moment about walking across the stage this afternoon all alone in front of several thousand people. (Or perhaps you weren’t worried until I described it that way).

Worry is a natural part of life, but as you well know, it can become too much. We can lose sleep. Or become edgy. Or lose perspective.

The scriptures we heard this morning, if we really listen to them, are reassuring. “Don’t fret or worry ... Let petitions shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”

Easy enough for the writer of that scripture to say, but in life, it seems much harder. I’ll bet you can each remember a time, perhaps even last week during your final finals when you were really worried.

Dave and I remember a summer day when our youngest son was scheduled for his first babysitting job from 1 to 3 on a Saturday afternoon. John was in sixth grade and was going to take care of the two preschool children who lived across the street. He knew them both. That morning, our normally very quiet son became quite talkative. The only time he talked that much was when he was nervous. He began to talk faster and faster and more and more. At lunch over grilled cheese sandwiches I tried to alleviate his fears by asking him somewhat facetiously, “John, what’s really the worst thing that could happen while you’re there?” He looked at me like I was crazy and answered: “They could both die while I’m babysitting for them.” No wonder he was nervous! We reassured him that we would be across the street and that all would be fine. And it was. But his fears were absolutely real at that moment.

Some of us worry a lot. Others stay pretty mellow most of the time. Last weekend, many of us saw the passionate and intense worry of John Adams on stage during 1776. He was a man consumed with worry that the members of the Constitutional Congress would never agree. Why was he so intense while others were not? I suspect part of the differences among us are genetic. At the same time I think that despite our natural tendencies toward being worriers or being people who don’t worry much, we have quite a bit of control over how we deal with the stresses of the world.

Lots of people ask me, for example, if my job keeps me from sleeping at night with worries about

  • students’ safety
  • frozen water pipes
  • finances
  • fires
  • old buildings
  • financial aid
  • baccalaureate speeches

I think about those things all the time – my husband Dave will attest. When the local emergency vehicles come toward campus with their sirens blasting, I hold my breath until I can tell whether they’ve stopped here or gone past us. When I hear them go past, I relax. But when I walk from my car to my office each morning, hearing the Chime and seeing you students paddle toward classes in your wrinkled clothes, I wouldn’t actually say I worry. When the Board of Trustees and I work together to find sufficient funds to pay our bills, I wouldn’t say I worry.

Instead, I think about you when I see you each morning and hope you’ve read your assignments and gotten some good sleep. I think about your professors coming into their offices to turn on their computers and prepare for the day. I think about our custodians finishing up their night of cleaning as they toss the bags of trash into the dumpsters. I think of our baseball coaches tending the ball diamond in the dewy moments of the morning. I think about how we can improve the College. But I don’t worry.

Think back to the Scriptures. In so many ways, God is present in all those people I just described. God’s power is in the hands that sweep the walks and in the minds that prepare the lessons. God’s strength is in the coach and the band director and in the financial services assistant and the professors and the trustees and in you. We don’t have to do all the worrying. God’s reassurance surrounds us all. Every day. Every moment. Now.

We make choices all the time about the things to which we pay attention. We can stew about things over which we have little or no control, like the radiation in Japan or whether the Cubs win the pennant. Or we can focus on other parts of our lives:

  • The high school teacher who encouraged a particular student (maybe you) to apply to college

  • The grocery checker I saw last week who helped the confused retiree get out the right amount of money

  • The professor who takes time for an honest discussion with a student about getting assignments turned in on time

  • The registrar who helps untangle a problem with transfer credits
  • The persons who pick up litter they didn’t create

  • Dave Good and Carl Strike, who worked like crazy to get all the flowers planted for today

Those are people whose lives radiate service and strengthen and centeredness.

There’s a loosely organized group in Ohio called SSSSH. It came into being after the death of Hiram College graduate Hal Reichle. When Hal was a college student at Hiram, he thought it was fun to help others. In fact, he thought it was the reason he was born. Hundreds of people received Hal’s simple goodness – rich people, old people, homeless people. For example, an elderly woman awakened from a nap to find that her lawn had been mysteriously mowed and a schoolteacher opened her garage door and found her snow-packed driveway had been shoveled. A family found their house freshly painted when they returned from vacation. A young mother and three small children discovered they were allegedly the 500th customer at the supermarket checkout line; and so their groceries were free that day. Several people who were short of funds discovered bags of groceries at their front doors. Hal never left a note.

But Hal died in a helicopter accident in Desert Storm. To carry on his legacy, members of SSSSH help others through little service adventures, without expecting any acknowledgement. SSSSH wants to create more goodness in the world – just for the fun of creating more goodness.

I’ll never be able to prove it, but I’ll bet people who participate in SSSSH don’t spend as much time worrying on the days they commit their random acts of kindness as they do on other days. They choose to focus on what is noble, true, right, pure, beautiful. Think about the ways you’ve received these acts of kindness. Many of you received scholarships from people who shared their hard-earned dollars for students they would never meet. These donors and Hal’s “descendants” learn about needs and do something about it. They live lives of deep gratitude. They don’t expect credit for what they do. They find joy in giving. We can, too. Our lives today and in the days ahead will be fuller and richer when we choose to focus on what is good.

Skeptics might say that my focus on the good is naïve and overly simplistic. In fact, some people do say that. To them, I would respond that when God completed the creation and saw everything that was there, “it was very good.” God didn’t say it was “good for now” or “good but not really perfect.” God saw that the creation “was very good.” He gave us both hope and a future.

It is left to us to promote a healthy society that welcomes and embraces diversity, and through regular acts of kindness, strengthens our compassion, our creativity, our imagination, intellect, and willingness to sacrifice – the deepest values of being human. God’s strength surrounds us all the time, and, if we let it, lifts our worries and anxieties. It also empowers us to be generous.

So together we can be grateful, focus on the good, and know that amazing powers and people undergird us, even in the darkest hours of worry. God who makes everything work together gives us both hope and a future. Today, tomorrow, and all the tomorrows after that one.

And the people said: Amen.

___________________

Scriptural Foundations

Jeremiah 29:11-13 (New International Version, ©2011)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

Philippians 4:6-9 (The Message translation)
6-7 Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down ... 8-9 Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, nobles, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.


For information about speeches by President Jo Young Switzer, please contact the Office of Public Relations, 260-982-5285.

 


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