On Wednesday, May 24, 2017, I participated in an interfaith service of celebration for the Ames High School Class of 2017 at the Ames Middle School. A voluntary event for participants, its goal is to recognize the role of god in our lives and give the school’s visual and performing artists one last chance to share their talent. My fellow speakers were Imam Mahjoob Jaily of Darul Arqum Islamic Center and Father Charles Ahenkorah of St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Catholic Student Center.
My remarks follow:
Thank you, Ames Community School District and Ames High School community for inviting me to participate in this, your 2017 Baccalaureate. I am The Reverend Eileen Gebbie from Ames United Church of Christ. If you don’t know of my church, we bear the distinction of being the oldest one in Ames—by one year—and sharing a parking lot with one of Ames’ most important public institutions, the library.
In the Christian tradition, we practice many different types of prayers, from silent and solitary to corporate and loud. But one writer has described the content of all types of prayers as falling into three categories: help, thanks, and wow.
So, I will offer my remarks tonight, prayerfully, in those categories.
I need your help. I need your help badly.
Ours is a world that is hungry and angry, alienated and frightened. None of those are new: The human experience has never been easy, we have never been particularly fair with or kind to one another. As you already know from your schooling, the history of humanity is defined by tribalism, which requires some people to be seen as acceptable and welcome with others seen as foreign and unwanted. I do not need to name for you all of the violence done because of the boundaries we create through religion, race, sex, and nation of origin.
But I believe that you can help us find a new way through all that old ugliness.
You are of a generation far more experienced with and exposed to the varieties of human existence than ever before. Your generation knows best—from your families of origin to the families that are made up of your friends—that it is not only possible to come together across religious, racial, sexual, and national identities but it is joyous, too.
So, please, help me. Help me and the older generations to know and do better so that you are not the last generation of all.
Second, thank you.
Thank you for making it to this day. Thank you for doing your homework and showing up for your teams and clubs and for putting in your hours of rehearsal and for sharing your talents with others.
Some of you may shrug this off with a, “Pfft, no big,” but it is. It is a big deal to get through high school. High school is a test of every facet of your self at the same time that you are trying to define that self. Even if you have a stable home life and parents to help with homework and sufficient money to eat every day and have a cell phone, the relational pressures of this time of your life could have become too much, could have overwhelmed all of your talents and drive.
And if you made it to this day all while being uncertain about clothing or meals or bed, I thank you doubly.
Thank you all for loving yourselves throughout the moments when the world treated you, or you simply felt, unlovable or unloved.
Wow is an expression of awe. We humans, regardless of age or education, need awe.
Our ability to be of help and to be grateful for the help of others is grounded in our ability to stand in awe before that which gives us the strength for both. You may call it love, you may call it God. Whatever your name for all that is sacred and holy in creation, find a community that will help you develop a deep and lasting connection with that divine power.
Even though your final exams are over, even though you may be going straight to work after graduation or to the military or to more learning, life itself will continue to test you.
A faithful community of awe will not only feed your good works and precious souls, it will also help you when you are sick, mourn with you when you grieve, and celebrate with you when you are blessed. And it will show you the profound honor of doing the same, with and for others.
So, Ames High School Class of 2017, help, thanks, and wow.
Amen and congratulations!