Looking Up: 2021 Graduation Address

Jim Knight
Where To Look

Congratulations, Class of 2021Let's pause
to take in this moment. Let it soak it in.
It is a privilege to be with you today as we mark this important milestone.  I am doubly privileged to share a few brief remarks with you to set the table for continued reflection.  Perhaps over dinner tonight, as we celebrate and share memories, some of what is said here might inform our lives.
We are here at a moment in time.  This moment is not just a moment in one’s lifetime of 80 to 100 years.  This moment is part of eternity.  Moments like these make up a collection of moments that span a much grander and immense scale.  This is part of eternity.
From this point, at this very second, we have a particular vantage point from whence to consider eternity.  From this vantage point, let me pose a question.
Where are we to look?  How should we take in this moment, and from what perspective?
Let me propose several places for us to look.
First, we have the privilege to LOOK BACK TO THE PAST.  Looking back is essential.  When we look back, we learn from our experiences and the situations we have encountered.  When we look back, we celebrate the good and reflect on the memories.  Graduates, today we look back at the last four years, at what has taken place and the good that has come into all our lives.  It is a moment of pride.  There are important memories to take note of.  We also look back, and perhaps we see mistakes; perhaps we regret some of the things we have done or even things we didn’t do.  There might be anger or even frustration.  We must face the truth about the past and not run from it.  We must face it head-on.  When we face the truth about the past, we are truly living.  Let me go even further if we look back more than 4 years, more than 10, more than 100.  If we look back 2000 years, we can see the Cross of Christ, the single most important moment in human history.  Here, forgiveness, mercy, unconditional love, and justice were fully displayed and changed the world.  God broke into our reality and offered us, in the person of Christ, reconciliation and abundant life.  This looking back to the cross is essential, as it promotes thanksgiving, forgiveness, and hope.  Graduates, look back.
Next, from this point in time, WE LOOK TO THE FUTURE, to what’s next.  What will the future bring?  There is summer break, moving out of the house and onto campus.  New classes, new teachers, new friends, a new city, a whole new scene, and a new start.  The future is exciting! For many, the excitement might be coupled with nervousness or even anxiety about the unknown.  If you are feeling excitement coupled with nervousness, you are normal and are in the right spot.
To live well in the present, we must have an accurate view of the future.  The truth is that our future is secure.  There is great HOPE.  We don’t need to fear.  We know from the cross and resurrection that Christ conquered death and invites us into His family forever.  We know how the story ends.  The last chapter is written, and it is not a surprise.  Because of this, we can live free; we can live without fear, knowing the eternal picture.
So, we look back, remembering our past; we look forward with hope; and in doing so, we are ready to be fully planted in the present.  We are freed from and forgiven for regrets and mistakes from before.  We are bathed in good memories and bolstered by a long line of those who have come before.  We don’t need to fear the future.  The future is known.  It is taken care of.  We are fully in the moment, ready to live an incredible life today, right now!
This reality gives us another place to look.  We can LOOK DOWN.  When we look down, we look at the details of life, the ordinary, the here and now.  This is where life happens, in the present. The homework, the schedule, the relationships, the to-do list, the part-time job, sports practice, theater rehearsal, and more.  Looking down brings us into the stuff of life – reality as we know it. Some of us don’t look down enough.  We are taken by the past or swept up by the future.  Either paralyzed by one or worried about the other.  We are not fully present; we are not engaged.  We need to be freed to look down and show up today.  On the other hand, some of us look down too much.  We forget the past and ignore the future and the eternal picture.  We are swapping the eternal view for the temporal.  We are addicted to now, thinking this is all there is.  We are stuck in the moment.
So, look back to the past, look forward to the future, and look down at the present.  All three are key to living well.
There is more.  There is one more place to look if we are to flourish truly.  A fourth place.
I have been fortunate to travel, and when I do, I like to visit churches.  I have been to many churches in the world.  Some famous, some small.  Notre Dame in Paris, St. Peter’s in Rome, Westminster Abbey in London, Canterbury Cathedral in England, local non-descript churches in different parts of the world with services in different languages.  When I enter Westminster Abbey, St. Peter’s, or Notre Dame, something different happens as I walk through the doors.  There is beauty and grandeur.  Every time I enter, my gaze is fixed upward toward the heavens.  I LOOK UP.  These churches are designed so that when you walk in, you look up.  You look up at the grandeur, the beauty, the immense space.  They are meant to send our minds heavenward.  They are purposefully designed to take our mind off of this world – if just for a moment – and have us consider something more, something bigger – Heaven – God – Eternity – the Divine.
I would argue that our heads are far too embedded in this world with its cares, struggles, pleasures, and people.  We aren’t designed only for this world.  We need to consider the next.  I would also argue that oftentimes, our heads are far too embedded in the past or even the future.  To flourish, we need to LOOK UP TO THE HEAVENS.  When we look up, we begin to see the next world.  We begin to consider the fullness of our being, both temporal and eternal.  Looking up, getting a glimpse of heaven is good for our soul; it allows us to live more fully in the present.  Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and Christ were all clear about the need to look up, to look beyond to the heavens.
Mr. Comer talks about the future every year and uses the imagery of pregnancy.  I remind us of it here.  What if this life is like being in the womb?  It is life, but not all of life.  What if there is something more than the womb or this earth?  At some point, babies come out of the womb and into the world.  What if this life is symbolically the womb, and when we die, we are born into heaven – a beautiful eternity?  This imagery helps us grasp something more than this, a world that awaits, a world that we must consider and prepare for.
Looking up points us to the eternal, the heavenly, the divine.  It points us to something outside of ourselves, something more.
The path to true freedom begins by recognizing that what we need most isn't found inside of us. Not from our past, our present, or our future.  Perhaps it comes from God.  Perhaps it is outside of ourselves and not something we make.
God gives us an identity.  In Him, we live and move and find our being.  He gives us life, purpose, and a blueprint for flourishing.  We are eternal beings created with a soul, and when we look up, look to heaven, look to Him, we conform to His perfect plan for our lives.  When we look up, we look at the author and creator of life.  Class of 2021, we can try and do it on our own, and perhaps we will do great things on our own, under our own strength, without God.  However, I believe that sells us short.  It is not true flourishing in the eternal sense, and there is an eternity to consider.
C.S. Lewis said it well: Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth, and you get neither.”
On July 15th, 1984, my junior year in high school, I sat on a rock high up in the Colorado Rockies.  It was night.  My gaze turned toward the sky – upward.  It was a stunning sight of the Milky Way.  Stars filled the sky; it was bright, cold, and vast.  IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING I HAD EVER SEEN.  As my gaze turned toward the sky, my mind followed.  I began to contemplate the divine – the heavens – and my life was changed at that moment.  I was set on a path that would lead to eternal things, to a life of being forgiven and offering forgiveness, toward reconciliation, transformation, and human flourishing.
Class of 2021, may you look back at the cross; may you look forward to the future with hope; may you look down, being fully engaged in the present; and most of all, may you look up to the divine, and as you do, may you think and live well.  Congratulations!  We love you and will miss you at Pacifica.

Pacifica Christian High School

A college-preparatory, Christian, liberal arts high school in the heart of Santa Monica.