It’s the season for new graduates, in high school, colleges, and universities to mark a moment of significant transition in their lives. I don’t know John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, but I do know truth when I hear it. Here are some excerpts of his recent commencement address to the graduates of Butler University. I hope they listened long enough to let it soak into their bones and influence a thousand decisions they’ll make in the next frew years.
We don’t hear these kinds of words often enough in our culture and yet they are as true as true gets.
I would just note that the default assumption is that the point of human life is to be as successful as possible, to acquire lots of fame or glory or money as defined by quantifiable metrics: number of twitter followers, or facebook friends, or dollars in one’s 401k.
This is the hero’s journey, right? The hero starts out with no money and ends up with a lot of it, or starts out an ugly duckling and becomes a beautiful swan, or starts out an awkward girl and becomes a vampire mother, or grows up an orphan living under the staircase and then becomes the wizard who saves the world. We are taught that the hero’s journey is the journey from weakness to strength. But I am here today to tell you that those stories are wrong. The real hero’s journey is the journey from strength to weakness…
You are probably going to be a nobody for a while. You are going to make that journey from strength to weakness, and while it won’t be an easy trip, it is a heroic one. For in learning how to be a nobody, you will learn how not to be a jerk. And for the rest of your life, if you are able to remember your hero’s journey from college grad to underling, you will be less of a jerk. You will tip well. You will empathize. You will be a mentor, and a generous one.
Let me submit to you that this is the actual definition of a good life. You want to be the kind of person who other people — people who may not even be born yet — will think about … at their own commencements. I am going to hazard a guess that relatively few of us thought of all the work and love that Selena Gomez or Justin Bieber put into making this moment possible for us. We may be taught that the people to admire and emulate are actors and musicians and sports heroes and professionally famous people, but when we look at the people who have helped us, the people who actually change actual lives, relatively few of them are publicly celebrated. We do not think of the money they had, but of their generosity. We do not think of how beautiful or powerful they were, but how willing they were to sacrifice for us — so willing, at times, that we might not have even noticed that they were making sacrifices.
(You can see his entire speech here, though I have not and cannot vouch for all he said.)
Sara and I are reading through Ephesians these days and read these words last night in The Message, “You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live.” I hear that sentiment echoed in the words above. The world teaches to pursue the wrong things and I applaud the courage of someone who will speak into the absurdity of false success and invite people into a different way of living where success is not measured the way the world measures it, or even rewards it.
Life is found in embracing our weakness and in doing so find a God so much larger than ourself and a way to live generously in the world. Those people do more to make a difference in the world they live in than the politicians, media moguls, or Wall Street brokers.