Graduate with Honors

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This year’s college commencement ceremonies received more attention than they usually do. Universities across the country were beset by protests over the latest Middle-East crisis, and graduates weren’t sure they’d even have ceremonies.

Most did, without incident. Two classes, however, got lots of media attention for their commencement speakers. One was a Catholic football star, the other a Jewish comedian. Both offered this advice to these kids who were in the process of commencing to their next stage of life: Don’t fear the pain of becoming the person you were meant to be.

Here’s what else one of these speakers said:

“This is the golden path to victory in life: Work. Exercise. Relationships. They all have a solid component of pure torture, and they are all 1,000% worth it. … Work and love. These are self-justified in our experience, and who cares about the result? … Don’t think about having, think about becoming. That is where it’s at.”

That was Jerry Seinfeld’s message to Duke University’s Class of ’24.

Harrison Butker, placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, had a similar message for this year’s graduates of Benedictine College—a Catholic school.

“Do hard things. Never settle for what is easy. You might have a talent that you don’t necessarily enjoy, but if it glorifies God, maybe you should lean into that over something that you might think suits you better. … Surround yourself with people who continually push you to be the best version of you. Iron sharpens iron.”

In Sunday’s first reading (Am 7:12-15), Amaziah, priest of Bethel, wants to sharpen Amos as he graduates from shepherd to prophet—implying that’s where the money’s at.

“Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying.”

If that had been a message at either of the commencements we just mentioned, student protest might have been justified—just as Amos’s protest was:

“I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets. I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Amos, like all commencing toward their destiny, probably perceived himself as a vital part of human evolution, playing an active role in shaping and being shaped by others—by God’s grace.

In Sunday’s second reading, Paul tells the Ephesians that, through Jesus, he and his disciples have become the instruments of God’s work on earth.

“In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory. … In Christ you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance.” (Eph 1:3-14 or 1:3-10)

Sunday’s gospel reading documents that inheritance, handed out like a diploma by Jesus to his disciples, certifying them to carry on with the work of bringing the gospel to the world. He equipped them for that work with nothing but his love and authority—presaging the message Seinfeld gave Duke’s graduates: Become something new—don’t try clinging to your earthly ghosts. Rethink who you are!

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. … So they went off and preached repentance. (Mk 6:7-13)

Repentance is a graduation process. It starts with a feeling of jubilation for having repented, but gradually gets harder as the job of living on this earth continues. Stay tough. We’re all in this graduate program together. As Harrison Butker reminded Duke’s Class of ’24, iron sharpens iron. Sharpening each other for our final exam isn’t cheating. It’s a prerequisite.

–Tom Andel


  1. Repentance is essential, even when receiving forgiveness in the Sacrament of reconciliation. God if forgiving and merciful, but we must do our part, and be truly sorry for our mistakes and sins.

    Receiving absolution in the Sacrament of confession is one of the most liberating experiences in my life. At times I find myself in tears when I consider the love and mercy of our God when the priest offers the prayer of absolution over me. Makes we wonder why I don’t go more often.

    Our God is an awesome God!

    • Yes, and when we leave the confessional, we should be equally ready and willing to forgive others. Peace on earth requires forgiveness to be a two-way street. It can be painful, but it’s the pain of becoming who God meant us to be.

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