At each Commencement, the alumni office hosts a brunch for undergraduate students and a banquet for graduate students. During each event, the graduating students are inducted as alumni. A small number of students are invited to address their classmates. One of this year’s standout speakers was a graduate of the School of Business, Andrew Gordon. On this episode of Cairn 10, Andrew talks about “The Speech,” Cairn, and his future.
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At some point this past week when you wrapped up your last paper or final, you experienced that moment of realization—the reality of your person physically, mentally, and emotionally crossing the proverbial finish line. In that moment, tomorrow’s schedule, whatever day that was for you—save for maybe a day job or something—demanded nothing from you. No homework was to be turned in. No exam was to be studied for. No class was to be attended. No meeting was to be scheduled. There wasn’t another semester after this one. And in that realization, the clouds were a little less gray; the rain was a little less cold; the force at which gravity pulled you to the earth wasn’t quite as heavy as it had been just moments before. We all share that experience in common this week. And in reality, we’ve shared a lot.
For one, we’ve shared this space. 10th Hour Breakfasts and twelve days of Christmases. We share the memory of Pepsi products, long forgotten. For many of us, we’ve shared those looks of concern from the employee behind the main bar when you come up for yet another piece of canyon chicken. We’ve shared in the admiration for those saints among us who carry 20 cups from one drink station to another when they get imbalanced, or who transfer the forks from the first container to the second—so that we might be spared the extra 6 paces.
We’ve shared in the jealousy of watching someone else pull that coveted yellow slip out of their mailbox—a care package from the old ladies at their church or an Amazon box awaiting them—as we stand there, peering into the void, coming up empty. We’ve shared in the quiet, empathetic head nod of understanding as you pass someone coming out of Business Services—both acknowledging that you are about to now be poorer than you were before. We’ve undoubtedly shared in the waiting at the train tracks—that gate to civilization—hoping for a SEPTA and inevitably getting stuck waiting for the world’s longest freight train to pass.
And I’m not discounting these things we share. Some of these were certainly memorable—but they likely aren’t the ones we will be holding on to. And I’m not going to stand up here and list off every single fantastic memory, because we couldn’t possibly all share those—and that’s a good thing; there are too many.
But the one thing that will last and the one thing that we will absolutely share is this place and everything that comes along with inhabiting it beside one another, in doing life next to people day in and day out. It’s the sitting wide-eyed after a Dolezal lecture, having your mind completely blown and realizing how immense the mystery of the Triune God is and how much more we have yet to read, study, and learn. It’s in catching the excitement of Professor Palladino as he jumps around the classroom while the group slowly unfolds the importance of hip hop and its contribution to culture and society and how that is useful and applicable to not just the historians or the musicians or the the social studies teachers—but to the business students, the social workers, the educators, the counselors, and ministers alike.
And you have these same types of things for yourself—there are different classes, different professors, different moments. But it’s in the sharing of that corporate gain—the opportunity we’ve had to live and learn together—that is what should stick with us. It’s in the classroom benefitting from diverse perspectives; in the chapel—the unifying of voices in lifting up praise to God; on the fields, courts, and courses where we process triumph and adversity side by side; in the practice room where hours and hours and still more hours yield greatest frustration but also greatest joy in our craft. I hope when we reflect, we set our minds on those things.
A big part of today is highlighting the transition we’re making from students to alumni. I actually ended up choosing Cairn because of the alumni that I knew. It wasn’t soccer; it wasn’t a social or a financial or a geographical convenience thing for me. In fact, my choice was pretty nonsensical. My girlfriend—who is now my fiancé—went elsewhere; I knew tons of people outside of here who were going other places, and frankly the 18-year-old version of me wasn’t buying in fully. I took the year off after high school not feeling confident about education plans and decided to do a year of service through Mennonite Mission Network.
It was during that year that I changed my mind. Once I thought about the choices long enough, for me, there wasn’t another deciding factor. I looked at the alumni I knew from other colleges and—right or wrong—compared them with alumni I knew well from here. And the vast majority of these were Christian colleges and universities. And I’m not up here to bash them—I’m not—but the alumni I knew and saw in my life were doing radically biblical things in how they chose to live, in how they prayed, in how they did church, in how they approached their marriage, in how they raised their kids, in how they went after vocational pursuits. It was tangible, visible, noticeable. That was something I could get behind. That was something that I wanted. That’s what brought me here. Not to be someone who stands out at all costs—but to be someone, who because of their faith, lives a life that looks, feels, and sounds different.
We are those people now. We get to be those people now. And the joy of that is in the fact that we don’t have to make a concentrated effort to be that way—we chose this for ourselves, its part of who we are. We, as alumni, have shared in this place together. And we’re taking some of it with us as we go. And I’m not saying that we’re supposed to be walking admissions counselors or advertisements—that’s disingenuous. But who we are has been shaped by what this place is and what people have filled this place up with while we’ve been here.
My junior year of high school, I had a mentor who asked me to be on a committee to plan our denomination’s nationwide youth convention. He was connected to the conference leaders putting it together, and he wanted to ask me to be a high school representative on the planning team. Humbled by the new opportunity, I confess in my head that when he asked I was thinking of reasons why I should say no: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the resources, I don’t have the energy. He gave me a week and then called me back in, wanting to talk it over. He listened patiently, without interrupting, to my points I made. When I was done, he simply looked at me and asked, “Why wouldn’t you? Your church asked you to serve, why wouldn’t you?”
All the excuses left my head. I went blank. I had nothing to say to him. That one simple question—Why wouldn’t you?—has allowed me to look at the world and my place in it in a completely different manner. It’s opened up my worldview to opportunities I may have otherwise declined. I’m seeing them in a completely different light. Answering that question took me to Paraguay, which changed my mind about college, which brought me here, which in a lot of ways brings us to now.
And of course, there are times we should say no. That goes without saying. But we need to respond to opportunities we sense are from God with that one question: “Why wouldn’t you?”
We’re going to hear even more than we have already that graduation is “really the starting line not the finish.” Or that, “It is now that your life is about to begin.” And that’s true, but another mentor of mine—my assistant principal in high school—reminded me of this, in talking about transitioning, and this is what I want to leave you with:
“In terms of our attitudes, and I’m speaking fully to myself as well:
We don’t have to; we get to.
We don’t have to graduate from Cairn; we don’t have to walk across the stage tomorrow; we get to.
We don’t have to thank parents, family, professors, staffers, and others for investing in us to get here; we get to.
As we move out from this space tomorrow, we don’t have to get a job; we don’t have to go to grad school; we don’t have to do missions; we get to.
We don’t have to work for peace; we get to.
We don’t have to fight injustice; we get to.
We don’t have to feed the hungry; we don’t have to clothe the naked; we don’t have to heal the sick; we get to .
We don’t have to work to build the Kingdom of God on Earth here and now; we get to.
So if we have the opportunity to do all these things, my question for us is:
Why wouldn’t you?”
Thanks everybody. Congratulations on graduating!