Students around the world, of every age and grade level, are completing courses of study and preparing to begin again. Commencement exercises take place each month in some part of planet earth.

The word ©commencement© has a dual meaning. It means the successful completion of a prescribed course of study. It also carries the active understanding of beginning again. Most students, long before their commencement exercises begin to take shape, are already planning for what will follow that exciting day.

When the announcement came from Whitney Smith concerning the Commencement Exercises of Winfield High School, it was only natural to recall that my sister, Marie, was also graduated with honors from that same school. I also thought of the many addresses I have delivered to high school and college graduates. I wonder if any were remembered?

With deep interest I listen to and read the speeches that are delivered to graduates each year. Some are much too long. They make good reading in history books. Few are too short, but stand a much better chance of being remembered. Students are usually thinking about something else while the speaker drones endlessly on.

The shortest and most remembered of all commencement addresses to come to my attention was the one delivered to a college graduating class. The speaker, dressed in all his academic splendor, after a long flowery introduction about his degrees and achievements, stood silently before his audience for one full minute. What great truth would this learned man impart to these waiting students?

At precisely the right moment this famous speaker opened his mouth and with strong emphasis, proper voice inflection, unmistakable sincerity, and perfect enunciation uttered these memorable words: "Don't mess up!" and with that he sat down. Every student, parent, relative, teacher, administrator, and friend present remembers the entire address, word for word, to this day. Those three words can generate thought and direction for a lifetime.

"Don't mess up!" In a world that has changed so dramatically in just the few short years leading to graduation day, what can be said that will make a difference? Perhaps it would be helpful to think of four areas of life.

Grow intellectually. Keep reading and learning. Increase your capacity for wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how to apply and use what you have learned. An old proverb, written by Solomon, known as the wisest of all men, says, "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7, NIV).

Take care of your body. You only have one. What goes into your body, as well as your mind, before you are twenty-one may determine what your health will be like for the rest of your life. Nurture and exercise it properly.

Learn to get along with others no matter how much you may disagree with them. As diverse as we are, all six billion of us live on this one small planet. There can be enough for each person if we can learn to live with a greater degree of civility. We do need each other.

Develop your spiritual life. Find out about God. Learn all you can about Him. He is the ultimate authority. Live in His favor. Be on daily speaking terms with Him. Know Him and accept all He desires for you.

That simple formula came to my attention one day as I read in the Bible about Jesus when he was 12 years old: "And Jesus grew wiser and taller and won the approval of God and of people" (Luke 2:52, NIV).

Whoever we are it is time to commence again. To complete one task in order to begin another one. The way Jesus did it is the perfect example for the rest of us.

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Copyright © 2003 Bill Ellis. All rights reserved.