This is a revised version of the graduation commencement speech given on May 17, 2020, to the 2020 senior class of Collegedale Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist K-12 school located in Collegedale, Tennessee. We would like to salute and inspire all 2020 graduates, no matter the academic level, and remind them that we are “almost home.”—Editors.
As you read this article, you might be feeling discouraged and disappointed. This was your senior year! A year that was supposed to be filled with so many memories and special events. But because of the current pandemic ravaging the world, all of that was taken away. Instead of being honored for all your hard work in your academic pursuits over the years, you’re forced to celebrate your accomplishments online or maybe not celebrate at all.
As I’ve observed the current state of our world, I’ve thought for a long time about what I could say to you, the class of 2020, as you move on to the next phase of your life. What message could I possibly share that you would remember? While you may think you’re the only one feeling discouraged at this time, rest assured that there are others who feel the same way.
Consider Steven, who was a pastor. From a young age he felt the call to ministry, so with every breath he had, he preached about Jesus and the hope of heaven. Steven was filled with youthful energy and enthusiasm, thinking about what God was going to do in his life. As he ministered to church members and the larger community, he focused on the hope that Jesus was coming soon. “Almost home” was Steven’s anthem.
As Steven grew older his message of “Jesus is coming soon” never changed; however, his attitude did. As the years passed, Steven began to become discouraged. In his old age, Steven had to say goodbye to many friends and family. He looked at the chaos in our world and saw all the pain and suffering. Steven was tired. He felt he could not go on much longer. The hope of being “almost home” had become more of a dream than a reality. Had he been wrong the whole time?
We can relate to Steven. When we look at the world around us, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to believe the lie that this life is all there is. When we see the pain and the stress that this life brings, we’re tempted to simply throw in the towel. Graduating class of 2020, now is not the time to give up!
I believe with all my heart that we are “almost home.” What we’ve longed and hoped for is just around the corner. Let me offer you this morning a message of hope, because I believe that we are almost home.
Lesson 1: Keep Your Eyes on the Goal
On March 6, 1987, Eamonn Coghlan, the Irish 1500-meter world record holder, was running in a qualifying heat at the World Indoor Track Championships. With two and a half laps left, he tripped. He fell, but he got up, and with great effort managed to catch the leaders. With only 20 yards left in the race, he was in third place—good enough to qualify for the finals. He looked over his shoulder to the inside, and seeing no one, he let up. But another runner, charging hard on the outside, passed Coghlan a yard before the finish, thus eliminating him from the finals. Coghlan’s great comeback effort was rendered worthless because he took his eyes off the goal.
Class of 2020, you have so much potential. You’re young, bright, determined, and you’re ready. You’ll go on to become lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, scientists, pastors, missionaries, mothers and fathers, and more. Class of 2020, your future is bright.
And before you know it, you’ll blink, and once again you’ll be marching down another aisle to receive yet another diploma. You’ll meet the guy or girl of your dreams. You’ll fall in love, start a family, buy a house, get a job promotion; and soon enough you’ll be living the American dream. Look at you. You’re so successful!
But when I said, “Keep your eyes on the goal,” was this the goal I was talking about? Seniors, this life isn’t our goal. We’re laboring for something much greater.
Our goal is a life that goes on forever. A life with no pain, no suffering, only joy; a life where every day is spent face to face with Jesus—not six feet apart. Heaven is the ultimate goal. Paul said it best: “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).* Class of 2020, you’re made for something much greater than anything this world has to offer. So keep your eyes on the goal, and never let up!
Don’t get me wrong. Whatever you do in this life, do it to the best of your ability. Give your all. Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
But if completing the American dream is your ultimate goal, unfortunately, you’ll be like Coghlan and lose the race.
This world will tell you that your goals are here on this earth. But, graduating class, don’t buy that lie! Because your finish line is heaven!
So, keep your eyes forward, focused on the goal. Stay the course and stay focused on what’s ahead. We’re almost home!
Lesson 2: Don’t Be Discouraged
Class of 2020, are you discouraged?
This has been a tough year. Our world has drastically changed. Look around you. A year that was supposed to be filled with many memories was taken away. You sat in your last class together, and you didn’t even know it. Within an instant the world shut down and everything changed. You went from sitting in a classroom with 20 of your closest friends to being secluded at home, peering at each other on a screen.
The truth is that life is going to be hard, and you’re going to be faced with difficulty. Even Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Seniors don’t give up! Hold on to the hope that we’re almost home!
When you meet friends, family, and strangers who have simply given up hope, encourage them and share with them the hope we have in Jesus. In fact, we are commanded to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
On Easter Sunday, tornadoes wreaked havoc on many southern states, including our community here in Tennessee. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, and thousands of people lost power. As I was driving through some of the hardest-hit areas around us, I noticed the messages that had been spray-painted on the sides of destroyed homes, such as “All are safe. 0 [zero] inside.”
That message was put there for emergency responders to let them know that everyone in the household was safe. As I continued looking at the destruction the tornadoes had left behind, I saw a message that almost brought me to tears. Spray-painted on the side of a house were the words, “All are safe. God is good.”
Even in some of the worst circumstances, the family who lived in this house knew that a better day was coming. There was more to life than destroyed homes and broken dreams.
Class of 2020, this world is looking and searching for something better. We can sense instinctively that we were meant for more. Go and tell them the good news! Hold your heads up high, and keep marching on! We’re almost home!
Lesson 3: Hang on to Jesus
Wherever life takes you, class of 2020, hang on to Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus, who began and finished this race we’re in. We are to study how He did it. Because Jesus never lost sight of where He was headed, He could put up with the cross and the shame. Why? Because of His great love for us. He is now in heaven, in the place of honor alongside God, and He’s preparing a place for us.
Class of 2020, keep your eyes on Jesus as Peter did. When you do, you’ll find that you’re walking on water in the middle of life’s storms. And if somewhere along your journey you get distracted and take your eyes off Jesus, I pray that you see His hand reaching down to pull you back up out of the water. Cling to Jesus with everything you have. Your life depends on it.
As you finish your high school career, I want you to press on toward your goals. Give life everything you’ve got. Work to be the best, most hardworking, most honest individual you can be; but above all of that, live for Jesus. If you don’t, then everything you do is in vain. Your life is not about you, it’s about Him. Live for Him! We don’t have much time left . . . for we’re almost home!
Some of my favorite stories in the New Testament focus on the life of Paul. Following his conversion, Paul went all out to share the gospel message. The road that Paul took was long and painful, but he never gave up because he knew there was something greater.
Near the end of his life, Paul was thrown into prison, awaiting his execution. Knowing that his time on earth was nearing its end, Paul began to write a farewell letter to his friend Timothy. In this letter, Paul offers Timothy advice on how to continue to carry the gospel to the world. Knowing that this would be his final message, he concluded by saying: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).
Class of 2020, are you ready?
Paul knew exactly what the goal was. He kept his eyes on Jesus until the very end, knowing that in his next conscious moment he would be seeing Jesus face to face. Seniors, don’t give up! We’re almost home.
Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:11: “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.”
When your days are good and this life brings joy, smile. We’re almost home.
When life causes pain and sorrow, dry your tears. We’re almost home.
When you meet people who’ve lost hope and believe that this is all we have, remind them we are almost home.
When you hear of natural disasters, wars, economic collapse, pandemics, nothing but hate for each other, and it feels like the world is going to crumble under your feet—look up! We’re almost home!
Graduating class, keep your eyes on the goal, never be discouraged, and hold on to Jesus.
Very soon we will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
He is coming soon!
Press on till the end!
We are almost home!
* All texts are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright ã 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Tyler Hodges, a graduate of Southern Adventist University, currently serves as the freshman and junior Bible teacher at Collegedale Academy in Collegedale, Tennessee. His wife, Jessica, is a labor and delivery nurse.