A week ago today, we graduated the Class of 2021, the 59th Class of Norfolk Christian Schools. After missing so many festivities with the Class of 2020, it was wonderful to walk through this years’ events with some normalcy. What struck me most as we went from celebration to celebration were not the accomplishments of our talented seniors, though there were many. What struck me was their desire to build each other up in their final moments as a group. I can think of no better example of the Ambassadorship we seek to instill than to share a few of those moments with you now.
A tradition at our Senior Dinner is for graduates to select two classmates who will speak at their last gathering. On this night, Anna Sandwell was the first to take the stage, where she challenged her friends to remember that they had been prepared to stand boldly for what is right, as Daniel did. But she also reminded them to pursue God with Daniel’s quiet humility, when no one is watching and nothing external can be gained.
“We post and we argue and we defend our beliefs and we make sure that it is public, so that everyone can see how good we are at standing out, or how good we are at being Christians. If we are not careful we quickly lose track of the things that are private, the things that are hidden. We lose track of our purpose and of the intimate relationship with God.”
After Anna, Daniel Rodriguez spoke to his peers about his own shortcomings and the fact that, no matter the masks they wear, none of them is perfect. He then recounted Jesus’ parable about old and new wineskins, encouraging the crowd to let Christ fill their longings with His Spirit.
“Your beautiful self reflects a beautiful Father. (In Matthew 9,) Jesus is talking about the Pharisees, and as people who have grown up in the church, we should be careful not to become Pharisees, looking at the Bible and seeing rules instead of seeing Jesus…It’s time to reach deep into yourself as you leave this place, deep enough to dig out the things that cannot fill your emptiness. There, you will find yourself and a new wineskin to be filled.”
At our Commencement ceremony, the two students with the highest grade point averages are invited to address the crowd. This year, that honor fell first to Salutatorian Katherine Visser – daughter of NCS alumni Britt and Roxanne (Albis) Visser – who spoke about how fortunate she felt to have spent her whole life surrounded by NCS. In a recent conversation with the CESA school review team, she was asked to describe Norfolk Christian in one word. What immediately came to her mind was “family.” At graduation, she reminded her peers to never stop leaning on the family they had built together.
“As we go our separate ways, let us not forget the family we made at Norfolk Christian. You all have blessed me in ways unimaginable. I have made relationships that I rely on emotionally and spiritually. I have teachers and coaches who treat me like their own children. And most importantly, I have a community that has pushed me to live a life that honors and glorifies the Lord…I am so honored to graduate from a school where I consider myself a part of a family.”
Last, our 2021 Valedictorian Tyler Jones used his love of numbers to cite some sobering statistics about the sin that so easily entangles this generation. How would they become exceptions instead of falling into the cultural norms of a secular society? This, he reminded us, has already been laid out in the greatest book ever written:
“We already have that answer. We are solidly equipped to handle all of the issues we will face. I encourage us to lean on Ephesians 6:10-11:
‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may stand firm against the schemes of the devil.’
We need to stand strong, even when the people around us are not. We must drown out the noise and be rooted in a truth deeper than ourselves. So when the world pulls you to become one of these statistics, when people ditch you and you feel alone, remember the greatest statistic of all: Christ died for 100% of your sins and He wants 100% of your heart.”
As I listened to the wisdom of these young adults, I realized that they are not cookie-cutter Christian school kids, ready to, as Anna said, “Post Bible verses with coffee mugs” to impress the righteous with their spirituality. Instead, I saw young men and women who have wrestled with their identity in Christ, recognize that Christian values may not be welcomed in the world they’re leaving us for, and know that there is a cost required to identify with Christ outside of our walls. And while any of us would choose an easy road for our children, where their values are applauded and their experiences are always positive, we know that is not the world these Ambassadors are walking into and prepared for. What I was so proud of last week was the resolve of these young adults to support each other as they fight the good fight, knowing it won’t be easy.
Congratulations to the Class of 2021. I can’t wait to watch the rest of your stories unfold.
May “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).