The speech I gave the graduating seniors on Friday (with a little editing):
"Don't Waste Your College Years"
(influenced by Piper, of course!)
I’ve known many of these students for eight years. In 2001, my husband and I arrived in Tanzania for the first time. I was 23 years old. I had only taught for 2 years, and only second grade. I was given the fifth grade class.
Figuring out how to live in Tanzania was a really rough transition for me. And I had no idea how I was going to teach fifth grade. I still remember my first day at HOPAC. This campus had just been built. It was barely finished. The rooms had just been painted and there was nothing—not even any whiteboards, on the walls. In the storeroom of my classroom were boxes and boxes of books. I had no idea what I was supposed to teach. Mr. Champion, the principal, was gone and didn’t come back until a couple of days before school started. There was no working copy machine until the day before school started. I couldn’t find any art supplies. I remember shuffling around in some old papers, trying to find enough poster paper so that I could at least write down the class rules and post them on the wall. I was beyond overwhelmed.
I really didn’t know how I was going to make it. It truly was the grace of God that got me here on the first day of school. And I remember that day, Dorothy came up to me and introduced herself, and the first thing she said to me was, “I thought you were going to be OLD! But you are SO pretty!” And suddenly, all was well with the world. I knew I could make it. And the class continued to bless me for the two years I taught them.
That year was also the first year HOPAC had a tenth grade—there were about 8 students in that class. And now, look at us. Look at how far HOPAC has come. Look at what God has done, and what He is doing. In such a short time.
All of you are entering your college years. Some of you will be going off to university, some of you will be taking a gap year in far off places, others of you may be starting job training. But all of you are entering a new season in your lives—your college years, even if you aren’t actually going to college.
So this is my challenge today: Don’t waste your college years. Don’t waste them. You are entering an extremely important season in your life. In the next 4-6 years, you will be making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Your career, your spouse, where you live—all could be decided in the next few years. Don’t waste these years.
I have three thoughts I want to leave with you today.
1. You will waste your college years if you forget where you came from.
Most of you do not recognize your uniqueness, because you are surrounded by people who are just like you. Yet when you go out into the world, especially if you leave Tanzania, you will suddenly realize that you are very different from your peers around you. You are unique because you have friends from 30 different countries. You are unique because you have seen and experienced poverty first hand. You are unique because many of you are from western countries or will live in western countries, yet you know and love and have experienced Africa deeply. You are unique because you are comfortable among many different cultures and languages.
Yet if you enter your new season of life and simply become like all the other ordinary people around you, you will waste your college years. If you don’t use your love of Africa to help others love Africa, if you don’t set an example for others as how to love and relate to people who are different from you, if you don’t continue in your compassion for others because of your experience with poverty, you will waste your college years. You will be different from your university classmates or the other people you meet in this new season of life. But don’t just then become like everybody else. Don’t forget where you came from. Use your uniqueness to influence others.
2. You will waste your college years if you do not consider what you can give back.
5% of Tanzanian teenagers are enrolled in secondary school. Only 5%. If you compare yourself only to the students around you at HOPAC, you are average. But if you compare yourself to the average Tanzanian, you have everything.
You have completed your secondary school education. You have completed your education at one of the finest secondary schools in Tanzania. You have had so many teachers here love you and invest in you and go beyond just teaching you every day to really influence your lives. You have the opportunity to go to university.
You have electricity. You live in a house with cement walls. You have access to clean drinking water. You can afford medical care if you need it. You do not have to worry about having enough to eat every day. These are privileges that most of Tanzania—indeed, most of the world—do not have.
I know that your lives are not always easy and many of you have gone through hard times. But you have been so blessed. And as you go into this next chapter of your life, and you consider what path your life will take—what your career will be, where you will live, what lifestyle you will have—you must think about what you will give back.
God did not give you all this so that you can simply become rich and live a comfortable life. God gave you this so that you can make a difference in the world. How will you give back? Will you seek out how your life can help to make the world better, or will you live only for yourself? If you seek only your own happiness, you will waste your college years. You will waste your life. Seek out God’s plan for your life—how He can use your unique talents and abilities to bring redemption to a broken world.
3. You will waste your college years if you do not search for Truth.
Life…death…God…purpose….love. Most of you could give me your opinions on these subjects. You’ve heard a lot about them at HOPAC, and probably in your family as well. But for some of you, if not all of you, when you leave these walls, you will suddenly find yourself faced with a multitude of opinions that you never thought possible. Your professors will be very persuasive in their beliefs, and most likely antagonistic, to any sort of religious faith. You may find yourself questioned, even ridiculed, on why you believe what you do. You will have friends present ideas that you never considered before. And though at HOPAC we have always encouraged you to think for yourself and never blindly believe anything, when you leave, you will find all you ever believed to be challenged.
What will you do? Will you build walls around your beliefs and not allow anyone or anything to question you, shutting your eyes against opposing views? Will you cave in to pressure and accept the views of whoever is most persuasive? Will you believe whatever is trendy? Or will you take the time and the mental energy to really and truly search for Truth?
If you refuse to think and question what you believe, you will waste your college years. If you give in without carefully considering, you will waste your college years.
Never in your life will you again be presented with so many different ways of thinking than in these coming years. Don’t waste this opportunity.
Think. Hard. About what you believe. Ask yourself the hard questions, even if others don’t. Ask yourself why you believe what you do. Don’t rest until you can prove to yourself the reliability of what you believe. Ask questions of others—your professors, your friends, your mentors. Read books thoughtfully—to really learn, not just to complete the assignment. Pray. With an earnest heart, ask God repeatedly to lead you into the Truth.
Of course, I do believe in everything that HOPAC stands for. I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I believe Jesus is the Son of God who took the punishment for sin that we deserve, so that we can have a relationship with God. But these beliefs did not come without a significant period, during my college years, of searching, and doubting, and begging God to reveal to me the Truth. I don’t believe these things because it was the way I was raised. I believe these things because I came to the conclusion they are the Truth—and that they can stand up rationally against rigorous opposition. I don’t want you to believe the things you’ve been taught at HOPAC simply because we taught them to you. Now, I do believe that any honest search will lead to the God of the Bible. But I want you to believe this because you have discovered, for yourself, on your own, that it is true. There is a very good chance that the things you will believe for the rest of your life will be determined during your college years. Don’t waste this chance.
So. This is my challenge. Remember where you came from. Consider what you can give back. And search for Truth. If you do, you will be using your college years to the fullest. Don’t waste them.
I am confident in saying that every staff member at HOPAC—past and present—who has taught you over the last 13 years, would be very proud to see you up on this stage today. You represent everything good that has been accomplished at HOPAC during these years. We are so incredibly proud of you.