The following is a transcript of the Whitworth Undergraduate Commencement 2000 Address that was delivered by Raja S. Tanas, a popular, longtime professor in the college's sociology department.
Tanas joined Whitworth's faculty in 1983 after completing bachelor's and master's degrees in sociology at American University in Beirut, Lebanon, and a doctorate in sociology at Michigan State University. He teaches a variety of courses in the sociology department, including anthropology, population studies, sociology of wealth and poverty and computer and statistical analysis, while his research focuses on Middle Eastern and Islamic issues. A native of the Holy Land, Tanas leads Whitworth students on a biennial Middle East study tour titled "Peoples and Cultures of the Holy Land: Past and Present." He was recognized by his colleagues with the Burlington Northern Teaching Excellence Award in 1989 and with the Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award in 1997.
Whitworth's Class of 2000:
I would like to begin by expressing my appreciation for the deep honor that you have conferred upon me to become a part of your life on this special occasion. We assemble here together with your moms and dads, other members of your families, your friends, and honorable guests to salute you and to honor you for your distinguished accomplishments - for the completion of your undergraduate degrees. I am deeply honored to be here. Thank you very much.
When President Robinson extended your invitation for me to be the commencement speaker, I found myself in awe. I could not give him an immediate response.
I went home and broke the news to my family. I asked what could I possibly say if I were to accept your invitation. Our older son, who is a recent Whitworth graduate, said, "Dad, it is very simple. Tell them what you have always told me." I asked in bewilderment, "What did I always tell you?" He replied, "Tell the graduates not to be afraid of tomorrow. Tell them that tomorrow's challenges, hardships, and tragedies will pass away as God gives them the ability to endure them." I thought for a moment, and said, "I think you are right, I will tell them precisely that." Therefore, my charge to you today is, "BE NOT AFRAID!"
The words "BE NOT AFRAID" are repeated in the Bible over and over again. On numerous occasions and in many contexts, scripture tells us that God, the Lord Jesus Christ, an angel or a prophet instructed the people of God not to be afraid. One could quickly conclude from the biblical account that experiencing fear is a natural aspect of the human condition. This is how God created us and makes us feel when we face the uncertainties of life, when we face the unknown, when we face new challenges, when we feel we are no longer in control of a circumstance or unable to predict its consequences.
In a few hours, every one of you will travel a separate road. You will disperse in many directions. A few of you may already have jobs. Others may pursue graduate degrees. Still others may simply take a year off from further study or may do mission work in various parts of the world. Others may get married and start a family. Our international graduates will go back home to their families and communities to serve in various capacities. And others of you - perhaps most of you - may not yet have a clue about the next page in your life. But no matter what road you take or where you go, the element of fear will always be present.
You have every reason to fear tomorrow. Our fallen world is afflicted with all kinds of ills that often make us tremble. Incidents of sexism, racism, ageism, and violence against our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, and our communities are not unusual. It is not uncommon to find ourselves - even in Spokane - fighting over values, over what is right and wrong, over what is honorable or disgraceful. We learn of wars in distant lands and of conflicts in many parts of the world that are based on greed, selfishness, ethnocentrism, ethnic cleansing, disregard for human dignity, disregard for the environment, or disregard for God's creation.
At a personal level, your fears may be of a more immediate nature. Maybe you do not know yet what road to take after today. Should you stay in town? Should you go out of town or to another state? Maybe you do not have a place to rest your head tomorrow evening. You may feel uncomfortable going back to your old bedroom at your parents' home. It may have already been converted into a guestroom. You may have to carry your own medical insurance now and assume responsibility for other personal expenses that were taken care of when you were still a student. You may wonder if you will find a job soon enough to live independently, to pay bills on a monthly basis and especially to pay off those student loans that continue to accumulate interest. You may be wondering if you will find a mate and have a family.
I identify well with your fears. They are real. I have experienced them in the past and I continue to experience them today. I remember, for example, that when I came to Whitworth University 17 years ago, I was afraid of coming to Spokane. At the time, I had just finished graduate school. Coming to Whitworth University entailed leaving my parents, my brothers and sisters, my community, my native land behind - more than 13,000 miles away.
Upon assuming my teaching responsibilities at Whitworth University, I wondered if I could speak English well; if I could teach my students effectively. I wondered if my funny accent could suddenly disappear. What about the needs of my wife and our two children? Would they be able to make it in Spokane? Would I survive the snow? Could I afford a mortgage or car payments? Would I ever receive a promotion or tenure at an American institution of higher learning? The list of fear-producing circumstances could go on and on.
However, my charge to you today has two parts: BE NOT AFRAID of events, and BE NOT AFRAID to act.
Consider the first part of the charge! Obviously, people do not deliberately seek to bring upon themselves events, the uncertainties of life, or fear-producing circumstances. When difficulties, hardships, and tragedies come your way, you ought to face them with courage, for God will give you the ability to endure them. God did not promise you a trouble-free world. As we listened to the reading from Isaiah, Chapter 43, God promised that when you pass through the waters and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you. He promised that when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. If you consider yourself a child of God, then you ought to claim this promise seriously for your life. Therefore, BE NOT AFRAID.
When life's hardships come your way, take time to be alone with God. Spend time in His word. "And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm" (Mark 4:39). Jesus alone can quiet the storms that you, too, will face.
The second part of the charge urges you NOT TO BE AFRAID to act on what is honoring to God; to stand up for what is right. In Jesus' words in Matthew 5:13, we read: "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored?" Following the example of Jesus' words on the mount of the Beatitudes, my charge to you is, therefore:
BE NOT AFRAID - to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to act meekly, to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
BE NOT AFRAID - to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to do justice, to be peacemakers.
BE NOT AFRAID - to be persecuted for righteousness' sake, to forgive others when forgiveness is not warranted, to say the truth, to show compassion to the weak and to the undeserving.
Asking you to endure life's events and to act on what is honoring to God is not an unreasonable charge to give you. We have prepared you well for the challenges of life. You have mastered at least one academic discipline. You are well grounded in Whitworth's liberal arts education. Along with study tours that took you virtually all over the world, your service tours took you to places of need; your campus tours took you to the library, classrooms, and athletic fields. You have received excellent preparation in the Core program.
But most important of all, we have encouraged you to give serious consideration to making a personal commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Church, a commitment initiating a life of discipleship that extends the values of the Kingdom of God into the world. We have provided you with an education of the mind and heart, and equipped you to honor God, to follow Christ, and to serve humanity. Employ this education for God's glory.
You will face times of doubt. When you do, look at your past hardships and see how God has been faithful in helping you endure them as you ponder the present and look forward to the future. Always remember, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning, great is [His] faithfulness" (Lamentation 3:23).
I cannot tell what the future holds for you. But you already have the two ingredients necessary to move successfully into the future: We have prepared you well and you have learned well, and God is with you.
Today, you join the thousands of earlier graduates who have carried Whitworth's mind-and-heart education into the world. You are the 110th graduating class. You are uniquely positioned in history in that you are the first cohort of Whitworth University graduates to make your mark on the 21st century and on the new millennium. You are the link between our past and our future, between the 20th and the 21st centuries, between the 2nd and the 3rd millennia. Today, past cohorts of Whitworth University graduates pass on the torch to you to put Whitworth's mind-and-heart education to work for a better world, for a just world, for a peaceful world, and for the glory of God.
I searched for a word of encouragement from the Whitworth's Class of 1900 - yes, from 100 years ago. The closest I could find were a few words written in 1906 by Mary Cox, then the editor of The Whitworthian. She said: "Let us say just a word to the class of 1906. Remember that wherever you go the best wishes of all Whitworth go with you. Work hard, stick to your ideals, and God bless you." I find myself echoing the same words for you, members of the Class of 2000.
NOW it is time to bid farewell to roommates and classmates, to friends and professors, to members of the Whitworth Community - especially to those who have left a mark on your lives. You cannot escape this moment. Neither can I.
Many of you depart Whitworth University with a mix of great excitement and sadness. Indeed, it is a time of excitement, for you have distinguished yourselves by completing your undergraduate studies. It is also a time of sadness, for, in a few moments, you will say "goodbye" to the people whom you have loved so dearly and to the beautiful Whitworth College campus that was your home for the past four or more years.
But, you know what? Whitworth University will always remain your home. We look forward to greeting you with "Welcome home!" Yes, we look forward to your coming back either during class reunion times or for a casual visit. When you come back, maybe you will introduce us to your own families and loved ones. We would love to listen to your stories, to your adventures, to learn how God has helped you endure the hardships of life; how He has blessed you at home, at work, and in the midst of your community. So, as you utter the "goodbye" today, say it with anticipation that we will meet again, and again, and again.
By the way, do not forget the amazing electronic mail. It has proved to be a wonderful tool for instant communication. Please do write to us - not only in times of joy but also in times of sorrow, so that we may weep with you and pray for you.
Men and women graduates of the Class of 2000! On behalf of my faculty colleagues and the board of trustees, President Robinson, and the Whitworth community, we salute you and honor you today for your distinguished accomplishments during your tenure at Whitworth University. In my native culture we say "Alf Mabrook" in celebrating a glorious moment like the present one. It translates into "One thousand congratulations." "Alf Mabrook" to you, members of the Class of 2000.
"Alf Mabrook" is also in order for your moms and dads.
Moms and dads! Many of you may have feared this day would not come, but it has! As you have watched your precious son or daughter become a young man or a young woman of courage who in a few moments will receive his or her college diploma, I applaud you for your labor of love over the past 22 or 23 years or perhaps even longer. Without your labor of love, we would not be celebrating this joyous moment this afternoon. Allow me to congratulate you, too, for a job well done.
Whitworth's Class of 2000! Go, therefore, into the world. Be strong and of good courage. May the Lord our God be with you always, wherever you go, and in whatever you do. Remember that wherever you go, the best wishes of all Whitworth go with you. Work hard, stick to your ideals, and God bless you. Remain optimistic! Remain enthusiastic! Remain compassionate! Remain faithful to Christ! Keep the faith! Keep hope alive! Fight the good fight! Finish the race well!
BE NOT AFRAID!