This week a significant chapter in my life comes to a close: I’ll graduate for the final time in my academic career. In some form or another, I’ve been in school for 30 of my 37 years. No matter how you cut it, that’s a lot of schooling. And now, it all comes to a conclusion. Saturday is Graduation Day.
And I think the finality of it all is hitting me. I’ve joked that I won’t know what to do without the feeling of school sort of hanging over me. And it’s true. For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been looking ahead to the next course, the next paper to write, the next book to review. Now that I’ve reached the end of the line, there’s a part of me that’s left saying, “Now what?” Which prompted this post of random reflections.
But this has been about much more than the accomplishment of an arbitrary goal. As with most things in life, the journey is just as important as the destination. And I can write this sentence with confidence: graduate school has been one of the best things to ever happen to me. I really don’t know who I’d be if not for the formative years I’ve spent at Lipscomb and Abilene Christian University. I’ll forever be indebted to these institutions.
14 years ago, I was a youth minister at the Northeast Church of Christ in Kingsport, Tennessee. I received a call one day from Calvin Crim, one of our elders. Calvin said he wanted to come by to see me. That afternoon, we ate lunch in my office and he told me I needed to continue my education. I’d been done with my undergrad schooling for about a year or so and I really wasn’t interested in starting graduate work. But hey, he was one of the elders; what was I supposed to say? I don’t remember the exact words he used, but at one point, Calvin looked me square in the eye and told me I was capable of doing graduate work. He challenged me to see how far I could go. I really didn’t know it at the time, but that day I began a journey that would carry me through the next decade and a half. I’m indebted to Calvin for loving me enough to tell me something I didn’t want to hear and for challenging me to challenge myself.
I’m also indebted to instructors who have heavily invested themselves in both their courses and their students. I’ve had the opportunity to sit at the feet of some great men, men who have shared their passion for the Kingdom of God. Not only has my understanding expanded; I’m a better father, husband, minister, and man because of my exposure to these men of faith. It is this formation that I’m most thankful for as this chapter winds down.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my mother this week. She was a lifelong educator and at the time of her death, she was considering a move into school administration. When I was a child, she would require me to work through a math worksheet and a Bible lesson before I could go outside to play on summer mornings. I think my appreciation for education is the direct result of her influence.
Sunny has made plenty of sacrifices to allow me to pursue such intensive academic training, too. While I’d be away for weeks at a time, she’d be at home holding down the fort, making it all look easy while taking care of our three kids. I’ve heard from several spouses over the years who have reminded me that a terminal degree is truly a “family degree,” and I think that’s spot on. Sunny has gone above and beyond to help me achieve this goal. To simply say I’m grateful would be an understatement.
In all, I’m excited and grateful to be at this point. I’m blessed beyond measure in this season. With clear eyes and a full heart, I’m giving thanks.