by Pam Wright
To the young women here - I am deeply humbled for the opportunity to address you today. I am grateful to your families who pushed you and believed in you; thank you so much. I am thrilled and so honored to be here to help celebrate our extraordinary young women of the class of 2010.
Let us take a moment to thank your moms – those unsung heroines who advocated for and believed in you, those moms who gave up weekends to attend sports competitions and celebrations, who put up with your bad moods, your friends, your over-the-top emotional drama queen moments- the moms who took those late night phone calls even when you were just calling to ask for money, the moms whose love sustains you every single day. Today is their day, too.
As your time at Caroline School comes to a close, the beginning of a new world awaits. Whether that world remains here in the familiar community of Caroline, or whether it means that you spread your wings on journeys to other distinctly different settings, it will be a time of anticipation, hope, and anxiety. Although my graduation year is well behind me, my school experience set the course for all future endeavors.
Allow me to illustrate in a social, emotional and historical context the pop-culture scene of the time. Unprecedented political change was taking place around the world, the war in Viet Nam, poverty and destruction in Bangladesh, the horror of the Jamestown Massacre, powerful religious movements to the right and to the left, the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of feminism- the women’s movement -the birth control pill; new democratic leadership in the United States, anti-establishmentarianism, anti-Semitism, peace, love, sex, drugs and rock and roll. Young people pushed for freedoms that had never been experienced before, and willingly confronted everything that hinted of authority.
Speaking of a cultural revolution, these years also witnessed young women hitch-hiking all over Canada, the US and Europe with nothing more promising than a Mountain Equipment pack strapped to our backs and a mere $100 in our pockets. We astounded our parents and frightened ourselves when we stepped out of our comfort zone and saw what the rest of the world looked like. But we liked the exhilaration of owning our future and we enthusiastically embraced realms well beyond the security and predictability of home.
Those of us who were ready for these challenges became responsible and ‘more worldly’. We came to believe that we were in charge of our future. This was a new age for women and found us in significant numbers entering university and college programs that had for all time, been the domain of young men. Departments of law, science, religious studies, engineering, carpentry, welding, plumbing, management, leadership – these programs and many more attracted and challenged young women to fields traditionally intended for our male counterparts. We felt empowered, and I wanted to be part of the change. I needed to make a decision about my future. The problem was- I had no idea.
In my confusion, I did know some things. For example, I knew that I needed to go to post-secondary if I was going to make something of myself. I knew that I loved to learn, and I sensed that I was meant to contribute. I just wasn’t sure what I was meant to learn or how I was meant to contribute and I desperately needed guidance. I looked to God for direction, and on one dark winter night in Jasper, I received His help. My confusion began to ebb during a moment of serendipity, unquestionably led by God. Let me tell you about it.
I cut across the yard of the elementary school in Jasper one very late bitterly cold and windy winter night on my way to pick up a few things at the local corner store. I was angry at the ridiculous hardship that the cold weather demanded- bundling up in a bulky parka, struggling with snow-pants that nearly swallowed me up, big clunky boots that were difficult to put on and take off feet that were often more cold than warm. My toque was uncomfortable and itchy and made my hair an absolute mess, and no matter how many layers of mittens I had on my hands, the cold chill never seemed to lessen. On this very late night, I resented the cold; I resented the wind; and I resented the fact that against my wishes, I had to be outside.
As I plodded on through the schoolyard with my angry little self, I noticed a light on inside one of the classrooms. This light somehow drew me closer and I began to forget how uncomfortable I was. I approached the window curiously and stopped in the crunching snow. As I peered inside, I saw a young woman standing at the chalk-board. Her slender back was toward me, so I knew she couldn’t have seen me watching her. She was writing notes on the board for her morning class of youngsters. I watched for only a few moments, but the image of her in that classroom that late night has never left me. In those few treasured moments, my world stood still. I became entranced. My heart stopped beating, I no longer felt cold, I no longer felt anger, and I no longer felt unsure about my future. I was mesmerized. I felt transformed and I realized I was changed. A reckoning came over me as I slowly and quietly backed away from the window to continue my errands. My heart quickened, my shoulders straightened, and a deep sense of awe and comfort overcame me as I realized the importance of what I’d witnessed. I applied to the University of Lethbridge in the Bachelor of Education program that spring.
I guess I must have completed my errands that dark wintery night, but life was never the same for me from that time onward. I do remember that I kept this awe-inspiring experience to myself for a long time. Finally, when I shared my story with a close friend, we realized that I had experienced an epiphany. God had spoken to me that night. He had brought clarity to my future when he laid his hands on my shoulders. He wrapped himself around me and led me to begin my life’s work. I no longer had any fear about the future; I have no fear of anything really. I really understand that I am God’s child and that He has guided me through everything that has come to pass since that miraculous night and will continue to be there for me until the end.
According to Wickipedia, an epiphany is the sudden realization or comprehension of the larger essence or meaning of something. For me, this was the meaning of life. I had been given a puzzle piece, and I could now see a whole picture for myself. I had a deeper foundational frame of reference for what needed to be done.
Fired up and moving forward on my conviction to complete a Bachelor of Education, I knew deep inside that I was going to receive my convocation through God’s blessing. I was driven to complete a demanding four year program in three years and achieved an honors standing. As I left the university on the last day of class to begin my first teaching assignment, I knew God’s hand had been guiding me the entire time. Years later, and with God leading the way, I applied and was accepted into a Masters Program. Upon receiving honors with distinction in this study, I was recommended to the Doctorate Program to complete a PhD. Was God with me? Yes!
Students, you have worked so hard and invested so much of yourselves. During your time at Caroline School, your teachers have become mentors; your classmates have become lifelong friends. You have taken this school and made it your own. Go forward to learn with hope in your hearts and faith in your God-given potential. When you think of how far you’ve come and how far our school has come, it just once again reminds you that God is good.
You now have opportunities that you never could have imagined before. The journey hasn’t been easy. It was your internal drive that kept you focused, kept you out of trouble, and will earn you admission into the next phase of your life. You dug deep; you stepped up your game. Now, a new set of challenges awaits you. Challenge isn’t easy- and I know it can be frustrating- particularly for young people who have been raised in a popular culture that doesn’t always value hard work and commitment, glorifies easy answers and instant gratification, the fast food, the instant messaging, the easy credit.
Your generation has come of age in a culture that celebrates fleeting reality TV fame rather than the hard labors of lasting success. It’s a culture that elevates today’s celebrity gossip over the serious issues that will shape our future for decades to come. It’s a culture that tells us that our lives should be easy- that suffering and struggle should be avoided at all costs, and that we can have everything we want without a whole lot of effort. But we all know that life really doesn’t work that way.
So graduates, I’d like to suggest that – contrary to what you might see on TV or in the tabloids- few things worth achieving happen in an instant, and there’s often great value in great struggle. It’s only by embracing, rather than shrinking from challenges; it’s only by setting and striving for our own ambitious bars that we become what we are truly meant to be.
Lessons I’ve learned from my experiences allow me to pass on some advice to you. I know for sure that all along the way, God is with you. You may not know this, you may not ask Him, you may not turn to Him, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t with you. He will reach out to you before you reach out to Him. When you get discouraged- and you will, when you start to lose heart and want to give up- and you will, I want you to think about all those who have supported you through your journey. You will come to realize that once you overcome one obstacle, another challenge will push your goal a step further. Pulling through these challenges will help build you up. It’s your stamina that serves Him every single day. You can all be strong- you can all achieve. Declare a testament that sacrifices and fights for goals that will make you stronger.
Your life experiences will become a source of grace for you. It will guide you in developing your sense of self and give you purpose as you discover where you fit in this vast world that God has created for you. Good Luck and God Bless.