Good evening everyone, I’m Isaac, salutatorian of this year’s class. First of all, I want to tell everyone that the school made a huge mistake by letting me up here to speak. I’m sure somewhere there’s a rule that you can’t have a salutatorian who can’t spell the word “salutatorian.” So, thank you to all the teachers, students, and to my parents for always being behind me, and getting me to where I am now.
I always get really “meta” with stuff I do, whether that’s my writing or my speeches. The reason for that, I’ve found, is that the best way to solve writer’s block is to write about having writer’s block. So let me tell you a bit what it’s like to prepare a speech like this, let you into the mind of your salutatorian. So I find out that I’m salutatorian at the Academic Awards night last week. Great! I’m so excited. It wasn’t until someone said something as I was leaving that I realized that this means I have to come up with a speech. And the next day, Mrs. Haddock, our principal, passes out the instructions for each of the graduation speakers. And I thought maybe that there’d be some thematic guidance or some suggested topic. But here were the instructions: “Congratulations! As the salutatorian of your class, you will be responsible for delivering the salutatory address at Trinity’s commencement ceremony. Please turn in the speech next week.” Nothing induces writer’s block like full artistic liberty.
So I do what any responsible, studious scholar would do. I googled it. When you search “best graduation speeches”, you get all of these famous commencement speakers. Let me tell you, Rev. Witherington has his work cut out for him. There’s nothing anyone can say up here that’s not a cliche. You really have to embrace that. But I looked for some speeches by my favorite public figures, and I found this one from Chris Sacca. I realize that not all of you know who Chris Sacca is, so here you go. Chris Sacca is one of the top investors in the tech industry today. He’s invested in companies like Uber, Twitter, Instagram, and Kickstarter, and he’s worth about $1.2 billion. He started out doing legal work for Google and just worked his way up. He gave a speech at the University of Minnesota in 2011. I really just want to plagiarize it all. I won’t. But Sacca had this message that I really needed to hear, and I think we could all use it. And that’s a message in humility and contentment.
You see, Sacca didn’t always have it so good. In his speech, he talks about how he wasn’t such a great student. Then, after he finally made it big in the Dot Com bubble, he ended up millions of dollars in debt. And he say that it wasn’t his education that helped him recover, it wasn’t his smarts, it was his ability to remain happy. He says,
“In my experience, quite simply, success is happiness. The kind of happiness that makes a noise, it announces its arrival with a deep inhale and a deep exhale. That happiness is success because it turns out, happy people get jobs. Happy people create. Happy people win. Happy people fall in love and raise families. They lead and change the world. Happy people get what they want because often happy people are the ones who realize they don’t actually need much more than they already have and they appreciate what they’ve got. Happy people are contagious.”
By being happy, he realized he wasn’t entitled to anything, and that money wouldn’t make him happy, but that hard work would give him fulfillment. I’m not sure about Sacca’s religion, but that kind of thinking has precedence in scripture. We as Christians can have that happiness, because we know that we work hard here and now to witness to Christ, and that ultimately, even if we fail in our work, we are assured eternal life through his grace, and not our work. First Peter 4:10 says,
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
I think this has three implications for us. We are called to stay content, stay humble, and stay curious. I’ve already spoken about contentment. I think humility flows from that, and we should remember that we are not deserving of our success, it flows from the Lord.
Personally, humility is something that I constantly have to remember. That’s not just because I got a big head after I was awarded salutatorian. When I was in first grade, I wanted to be an astronaut. I still do. I read everything I could about spacecraft and space exploration. So one day, I told our teacher, Mrs. Brashear, that not only was I going to be an astronaut, I was going to be the best astronaut, since I was smarter than all the scientists out there, because I had read all the books. What my first grade self didn’t realize is that this clearly begs the question about my intelligence relative to those who wrote the books. Being content leads right into this because when you’re not content, everything is either something you have or something you don’t. When you are content, you begin to have an appreciation for things and knowledge that other people have and you can be humble about yourself.
Then, knowing that there is so much out there that other people know, we should be inspired to always stay curious. When we’re frank and humble about our limits, we should get excited about how we can improve. Now that I’m not held to the standard of being the best astronaut ever, I can appreciate the works of the more experienced, and learn from other students who may be better than I am. My swim coach always tells his team that every day when we enter practice we ought to say, “I’m not good enough... yet.” Improve yourself. But don’t do it to reach arbitrary standards. Do it to discover the world God has created, learn just for the sake of learning, just to exercise this amazing facility all humans are gifted with. Chris Sacca says, “Your GPA only matters to people who have no other reason to find you interesting.” From someone who is up here on merit of his GPA, don’t learn for that. Do it for yourself. Do it for the Lord.
Stay content, stay humble, stay curious. After spending four (or more) years with most of us seniors here today, I know that we can commit to doing that. And I know that if we do that, we will find happiness, and ultimately serve the Lord. To steal from Sacca one last time, graduation is Control-Alt-Delete. Total reboot of the system. We get a fresh start. But it’s not just that. God’s mercies are new every morning. Every day we have a fresh start from our sins, a fresh start remember those principles. I hope we do.