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Charge to Members of The Whitworth University Class of 2012

May 13, 2012

Today is a day when we celebrate our mothers. We all have one. Many are still living, and many of you graduates have your mothers here this morning. For others, including for some of our graduates, our mothers are embodied in the memories we have of them and in the investments they made in our lives that still bear fruit today, and for which we are eternally grateful. In every way, it is a blessing that we can celebrate our mothers on the same day we celebrate our graduates' achievements – because without one, we wouldn't have the other.

Graduates, today is also a day that you celebrate and acknowledge another "mother" in your lives. From this day forward, members of the Class of 2012, Whitworth University will be your alma mater, which is Latin for "nourishing" or "nurturing" mother. There is some debate about how a term that was once used as a reference to Roman goddesses ended up as our culture's term of affection for the college or university from which we graduate, but it is clear that the medieval scholars who co-opted the term saw the university as a place that was nurturing and supportive, like our earthly mothers, and if we take the metaphor to its extreme, a place that gives birth to a new life, a learned life, a life of exploration, discovery, introspection, and vocation.

Knowing in advance that today's events would compete with our annual celebration of our mothers, I began to think about ways in which our alma maters, specifically Whitworth for you graduates, and our earthly mothers are similar. So as part of my charge to you this morning, graduates, and in honor of Mother's Day, I bring you my top 10 list of similarities between Whitworth University and your moms:

No. 10: Both of us (your mothers and we at Whitworth) think you're better looking and a lot smarter than you probably really are. Now, I've checked with your moms, and we think it's only responsible of us to let you in on this secret now, before you leave the pinecone curtain and enter the real world. Don't get me wrong: We do think you're good looking and we do think you're wicked smart – but you've grown on us over the years. Your new colleagues at work or in graduate school will need to get to know you too, to learn to appreciate you, and over time, I'm sure they'll see you as the same game changers we do!

No. 9: As long as we're on this topic, we (that is, your mother and the university) are both better looking and smarter than you think we are. Now, I know there are times when we embarrass you – you think we're old-school with our kooky dancing, love of '60s music, and detailed "cohab" rules, but we deserve some credit, too. Your appreciation for your moms -- and for the university, for that matter -- will only increase with time. One day, housing lottery rules will make sense, Graves Gym will seem nostalgic, Core 250 will seem practical, and mom's Christmas pajamas, you know, the ones she's worn each Christmas morning since you were born, will be cool.

No. 8: Despite our best attempts, mothers and Whitworth both have trouble remembering you as anything other than an 17-year-old. Former Harvard College Dean Harry Lewis once said that we shouldn't forget that college is mostly about turning 17- and 18-year-olds into 21- and 22-year-olds. Your moms, and we at Whitworth, know you've grown and matured since you left home and arrived at Whitworth, but it's hard not to miss the cute and cuddly high-schooler you were: young, naïve, good-looking, idealistic, never having thrown a Frisbee. Some moms have told me they miss Thanksgiving dinners that don't include conversations about metaphysics and epistemology, or about virgin pine cones and DTRs. We at Whitworth remember you fondly as freshmen moving into your new residence halls during orientation, some of you pulling U-Hauls made for packing three-bedroom homes, full of stuff to cram into your rooms – and you parents leaving campus that same weekend with U-Hauls full of stuff that didn't fit. We remember the good old days when we had you convinced that you actually had to buy all of the required texts for your classes. Although your mothers and we miss that adorable 17-year-old version of you, we also love the 22-year-olds you've become.

No. 7: We both told you what to wear this afternoon for graduation.

No. 6: While we both enjoyed your time living with us, our jobs were to move you out eventually. And believe me, we both had our doubts that day would ever come.

No. 5: We'll both nag you to stay in touch. Remember to call us from time to time – Sundays after lunch are good. We want to hear about your accomplishments, what you think about your new jobs, who you're dating, how smart and good-looking your friends think you are. In fact, you could come home more often – don't miss homecomings, or Thanksgiving dinners for that matter. And when the phone rings, and the caller I.D. reads "Mom" or "Whitworth Phonathon," just say to yourself, "Oh, that's mother calling. I'd better answer. I wonder if she needs money."

No. 4: We both want what's best for you, and we are both pretty sure we know what that is. Yes, it's true, both of us, your moms and those of us at the university, have pretty strong opinions about how you should spend your time after graduation – and those opinions most often include your earning a paycheck and not living in our basement. Seriously, we see the amazing gifts and talents you brought here with you, and the ones that have been discovered and cultivated at Whitworth, and we are in awe. We pray that you will steward those blessings well. We both celebrate the person you are and the person God is calling you to be. And we are both ready to stand by your side and support you. We are both praying for you. And we'll both be quick to give an opinion, if asked.

No. 3: We've both poured our lives into you. Sometimes, admittedly, what we had to offer wasn't enough: it was imperfect, incomplete, and often short of the need at hand – but we gave you our best. What we had to offer – our wisdom, our experiences, a nurturing home and a safe place to learn, grow and mature – we offered in love, hoping that you would take these relatively small and imperfect offerings and turn them into something bigger. Thanks for the graceful way you accepted these imperfect gifts, and for the faithful way you made them better through your hard work, diligence, and vision. You make it seem like we contributed more than we really did. Thank you for that.

No. 2: You've influenced our identities. We learned from you just as much as you learned from us…maybe more. The way we understand ourselves and see our own unique gifts and challenges has been deeply informed by the ways we know you. We see in you who and what we are, and who and what we hope to become. We are encouraged to continue in our vocations, as mothers and as employees of Whitworth University, because of the encouragement you've given to us. We see ourselves in you. We hope you see yourselves in us, because we know we are better for knowing you.

And finally . . . the No. 1 similarity between Whitworth and your mom: We both want you to honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity. We pray that your lives will reflect your knowledge of a sovereign God who has so graciously given you a mind and a heart to engage his creation with intellectual competence, moral courage, and deep compassion. We pray that your lives will reflect the grace and truth of our Redeemer and Lord, Jesus Christ. And we pray that you will be Christ's hands and feet as you humbly serve a world in great need, a world that needs you so desperately.

So my charge to you, the extremely smart and good-looking graduates of the Class of 2012, is to remember both of your mothers, this day and every day. We love you, and may God in Christ bless you all the days of your life. Amen.