“The only thing I could think of was that I got this paper but I don’t know nothing,” Andrew Young said at my commencement. “Graduation left me with a huge question mark.”
During his talk, Andrew Young allowed himself to be vulnerable and admitted that the days following his graduation at Howard University were the darkest in his life.
“I’ve got good news and bad news,” he told us. “The good news is that you’ve completed a certain stage of your career and your education.”
The bad news, Andrew Young would share with us, was his own personal experience. 68 years ago, when he got his Bachelor’s Degree, he had no idea what he was going to do with his degree. The days before and after his graduation would be the most miserable days of his life.
“I hope it’s not true for you, but it’s not bad if it is,” he said. “Because if you realize what there is left to do, and this education only scratches the surface of all there is to live. And where do we go from here?”
Young and his parents stopped at a church conference near King’s Mountain, North Carolina. He went out for a run and started running fast, up and down a hill, refusing to slow down. When he got to the top of the mountain, he was at a point of utter exhaustion. He could barely breathe, frustrated. But he caught his breath and opened his eyes.
“I saw a blue sky like this one. I saw trees like these around. I saw fields of corn. And I saw an Earth in which everyone seemed to have a purpose,” he said. “And then it suddenly hit me, whoever created heaven and Earth…he couldn’t have left me out. There was something there for me, as well.”
Our creator must have had a divine purpose for each of us. A Christian and ordained minister, Young told us that the New Testament tells us that the spirit of God was within us, and “for the first time in my life, that made sense.” The mysteries of our lives outweigh everything we’ve ever achieved, and life remains a mystery above all else. Everyone in life knows this.
“There is nothing you have learned or that you do that is not somehow part of a sacred vocation that somehow defines you.”
As creatures of the spirit, we have to humble ourselves to accept. And then Andrew Young’s testimony and address grew more personal:
“I got a lot of credit, as does Martin Luther King. We did kind of change the world in some ways, but I’ll let you in on a secret. We really didn’t know what we were doing. We had no idea how this country could change.”
He talked about the Selma to Montgomery marches, when Amelia Boynton Robinson worked with leaders of the SCLC, including Young, to plan a key step of the Civil Rights Movement. Now, we know Boynton as the woman photographed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, beaten unconscious on Bloody Sunday:
But at the time, Boynton had “no plan, no money, no dream,” but Young said to “go when someone calls.” Within three months of the Selma marches, which highlighted and brought attention to racial injustice in America, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the legendary Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to Young, it was a “message that we didn’t send.” The marchers had no money, and only 35–40 people and the March was actually a mistake. It happened on the wrong day, and if it happened any other way, there wouldn’t have been a voting rights bill.
“There is in our utter foolishness, our foolishness to believe we can change the world and make this world liveable. When we let go and let God, in whatever field you might find yourself, when you run to the end of the road and you’re exhausted and you don’t know what else to do, you relax and let go. Then something divine is liable to happen in your lives.”
Who knows what that “something divine” is? It can be a disorderly student or dying student that Young loses as an example, but “whatever it is, we are more than human beings dealing with the frustrations of an Earthly life. We are spiritual beings.” In that spirituality will always be a mystery, a “power we cannot understand.” But when we surrender to that divinity, “glorious things will happen.” For Young, this is an especially important message given the confusion of our time since the Civil Rights Movement. And it seems like, in the experiences and words of Young, some of the best things that happened in his life and his experiences were mere accidents.
Young, the U.N. Ambassador during Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, defended his President on things that we largely take for granted. He noted that “[Carter] served as President of this same confused cluttered and difficult world for four years and didn’t get any American killed in battle.” He then noted the extremely unlikely success of the Camp David Accords, widely lauded as one of the Carter administration’s greatest accomplishments. Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian President, and Menachem Begin, the Israeli Prime Minister, would hardly even look at each other. But President Carter gave each of them a picture of Sadat and Begin with their grandchildren.
The two men “realized they were walking away from their responsibilities.” They were dumping the future on their grandchildren. Three days later, they reached a treaty that has lasted the last 50 years, and Young says that “there is something profoundly spiritual about that.”
For us, there are things like that that will happen in our lives, too, that will seem like they make absolutely no sense and we have to surrender to our higher power to. Andrew Young informed us about our opportunity and training, which we got from interactions with classmates and people around us. As I have echoed in the past, the greatest education in our lives is often outside the classroom, in the interpersonal challenges we face in our communities.
“Those are stepping stones that will take you into a future that neither you nor I can imagine.”
As people created in the image of our God, we have been blessed, Young urged us to “pass those blessings among our creation.” As Jesus said in his final words, in John 19:30, “it is finished,” and what does it mean for us, for me, to go on with the acceptance of the knowledge that the work in making the stepping stones have been done?
It means that we are liberated people, free to do anything and take any risks. That does not mean we shouldn’t live and go forward without self-restraint and control. Surrendering to God does mean, that I “just chill” and lay on the couch all day, but rather that God is in the driver’s seat and that anything that I do, whether good, bad, ugly and completely sinful, is part of God’s orchestration and plan. I am not a puppet, and no person with devout faith is, but a liberated person who can put a step forward and trust that everything that happens, even if it’s an accident, and especially if it’s an accident that defies expectation, was meant to work out for good.
There is a story my mom tells me often. As a young mother growing up in China during the One-child policy, she had to take birth control shortly after my brother was born. My parents were, by no means, expecting another child. But fortunately the birth control failed, and I was born six years later.
I don’t know what the future holds. I have no idea, moving forward into teaching high school kids I am by no means qualified to teach and educate, what I’m actually doing. But God has put me in this position to impact change and do his work. It was kind of an accident, a mysterious one, but it was the best accident that could have possibly happened, and life is just like that most of the time.
This article was originally published at theodysseyonline.com on May 29, 2019.