By James Westbrooks,
McCallie School 2015 Grayson Medalist, Walker Casey Award Recipient
We are all looking forward to tomorrow and the opportunity to join the long blue line of impressive alumni. In addition to graduating from a fine institution like McCallie, there is another side benefit: post-graduation gifts.
No one can deny it, we all love pulling the intricate ribbon off a box and tearing open an envelope to see what treasures lie within. We will be excited to find monetary gifts, material goods perhaps in the form of college dorm necessities, and of course the intangible gifts… love and support for the future.
The day will be perfect for most of you; full of family parties, food that will make your mouth water, and potentially the overwhelming amount of congratulations and gifts mentioned above. Seemingly, nothing could ever go wrong… that is until you understand that a thank you note must accompany each gift.
Yet, you are a McCallie graduate; you understand procrastination at its finest. You will brush off your mother’s constant reminders that you should be working on them a little bit at a time up until the point where she states that they will be sent out the next day. You have fallen in the trap, and all you can do is stare at your stack of stationary and envelopes hoping the words will magically transport themselves from your pen onto the cards.
No one exactly enjoys writing thank you notes, but we feel obligated to thank the giver when we see the utility in the gifts we receive. However, the biggest and most important gifts that we have ever received come from a giver who is largely taken for granted and seldom thanked. Of course, these are the gifts our loving God has bestowed upon us. For whether you realize it or not, the good fortune and opportunities that have been put before you are blessings from the Lord. Our accomplishments and future success stories are all because of God, and our duty, exemplified in the McCallie motto, is to glorify him in all that we do.
Paul tells us in Corinthians 1: chapter 12 verses 4-11:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.”
So then what is Paul telling us? We all have different abilities, different talents, different interests, and different skills. Take in this very room for example: there are people who shine with charisma, incredible athletes, men with superior intellect, stand-out leaders, and the list goes on and on. Yet I am willing to bet that for the areas we shine in, there are just as many we lack in. It is true for every single person in this room, as it is implausible to say a human being can excel in all things. So then should we dwell on the character traits that we ourselves do not exemplify? Certainly not. We must embrace every skill, talent, and even disability, and use those gifts to their fullest to show thanks.
McCallie on its own has been a sacrifice for many. Your parents have worked incredibly hard to help you through these years on the Ridge, and because of the work you have put in, and the grace God has blessed you with, you are about to begin a new amazing journey. The college list for the class of 2015 is more than impressive, and it is important to understand that like everything else, God has put you there for a reason. In this new place, wherever it might be for you, there is an opportunity to take the gifts described earlier and do something unique. Many of you will use your God-given gifts to succeed. Some of you will use your academic skills to get a degree and pursue your dream job. Others will continue a career in sports because of athletic skills. Some of you might use musical talents to enrich your lives or perhaps computer skills to help shape technology’s future. Still others of you will use your gift of caring and healing to help others through medicine or even serving our own country through the military. The options are limitless and for most of you the future is somewhat unknown, but I urge you to have faith in the Lord, as He will always give you guidance.
One day you will have to face God and answer Him with how you used the gifts He bestowed upon you. What will you have to say? The true way we show thanks for the gifts we have been given is using them wisely and to their fullest. God wishes for you to take what He has given and expand upon it. Jesus teaches us this lesson in the book of Matthew:
“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant!”
For you see the gifts we have are not meant to be hidden; rather, we owe it to the community around us to share our unique ability. Your individual gift serves as a spoke on the wheel of society, and if hidden, the progress of the entire group is hindered.
Thus, the way you can thank God for his ultimate gifts is to use your talents to serve the rest of the world. In other words, make a difference in someone’s life other than your own. Now God isn’t against having success in life. He isn’t against financial accomplishment or being famous. What He does want, however, is for you to realize that everything you do, everything you achieve is due to the gifts and talents He has given you.
He doesn’t want you to write Him a personal thank-you note on your fancy stationary. That isn’t nearly enough. What he does want is for you to show your thanks by loving your neighbor with all your heart, by giving to someone in need without expecting something in return, by treating others with respect, and by being humble in all you do. In fact, Jesus’ words shortly after the parable I just read are: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
For many of us because of the incredible blessings we have had, one day we will be in powerful business positions. I challenge you then, my brothers, to understand that God honestly does not care how successful you are, he cares about how successful you can make someone else feel.
So thus I urge you, before you tear open your graduation gifts, or devour some succulent barbecue, or even walk across that stage tomorrow, Stop. Take a moment and breathe. Be grateful. Look at the people around you. Your friends. Your family. And all of those who have shown you love. Thank them for everything they have done for you.
God, I thank You for the dedicated faculty and staff at McCallie who have genuinely cared for my well-being and development over the past seven years. I thank you for all my friends who sit before me, as I know they will always have my back. I thank you for my grandparents, parents and brother who show me nothing but love even in times when I probably don’t deserve it. You all mean the world to me.
Say thanks for the blessings you have been given, and understand every day presents itself with an opportunity to show your gratefulness. Continue to live justly gentlemen; it has been a true honor spending the last few years with you. Thank you.
This speech was delivered at the Baccalaureate service, held May 16, 2015, in McCallie Chapel. You can view the entire service on McCallie's YouTube channel.