It’s graduation time for high schools and colleges all across America. This year I had the privilege of delivering the commencement address at the Richmond Regional Home Educators high school graduation ceremony – addressing home school graduates from the greater Richmond, VA area where I was home schooled.
Below are my remarks, but while directed at homeschooled graduates, I believe they are applicable to anyone graduating high school or college and facing the great burning question: So what’s next?
Fellow home schooled students, fellow homes schooling parents, family, and friends thank you for inviting me to be here to participate with you in this most auspicious occasion.
You did it! You graduated.
On the one hand you have done what millions of people before you have done, graduated high school. It’s a right of passage in America.
But on the other hand you have done something that puts you in the elite ranks of Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, First Lady Abigail Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, Thomas Edison, Susan B. Anthony, Alexander Graham Bell and many other homeschoolers.
Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Woodrow Wilson, and at least a half a dozen other U.S. Presidents were homeschooled. Incidentally, my children – Harrison, Jefferson, Wilson Tyler, and Madison – are also being homeschooled.
But you also join the ranks of a new generation of homeschooling pioneers like Tim Tebow, NBA star Blake Griffin, The Jonas Brothers, Rebecca Black (yes we have a homeschooler to thank for the YouTube sensation “Friday”), Taylor Swift, and many others.
What you have done is historic.
But parents, this is your day too, maybe even more so for you than for your students.
You took the Biblical admonition to “Train up your children in the way they should go,” not just to heart, but you put it in practice. You poured you energy, your passion, and yes your tears into these students – your children.
Today, you have given the graduating class of 2016 boundless opportunities.
But with that boundless opportunity comes a burning question.
Let me be the first person to ask you the question that you will hear 100 times over from friends and family after today:
So what are you going to do next?
Some of you might have a detailed five year plan all mapped out and prepared remarks to go along with it to address this question.
Some of you may have had a detailed plan until you got a letter last week that opens with “Despite your excellent credentials, we’re sorry to inform you . . .”
Some of you may feel pressured to embrace an answer to that question that you don’t feel is right.
Some of you may dread that question, because the honest answer is “I don’t have a clue.” But you wish you did.
Let me give you two pieces of advice as a lawyer 1) it’s the wrong question and 2) you don’t have to answer the question (its ok, tell them your lawyer said so).
The Israelites were sitting right where you are right now, about to graduate from 40 long years in the desert – and the comparisons between the desert and grade school are endless – long, repetitive, monotonous, boring … but I digress.
As the Israelites were graduating from desert and into the Promised Land, you know they were getting the same question you are. What’s next?
But that’s not what God was worried about. Listen to what God had Joshua do:
Yes, I’m about to read the Bible at a high school graduation – isn’t home schooling great!
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them.
Clearly the one thing on the Israelites’ mind at this moment was crossing the Jordan to get to the Promised Land.
They were focused on what’s next.
But God’s focus was different. God’s focus was on remembering how you got here.
That’s what the stones were for to remind the people of Israel how God brought them to that place.
What are the twelve stones in your life? For one you have finished 12 grades!
But it’s more than that.
Let me tell you about some of my stones.
When I graduated law school my wife got me this glass ring – with stones in it – it was to remind me of the stones in my life. How God brought me to that place.
It began with the stones my parents set up. It began with my parents – like many of yours here today – following God’s command to parents to “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
It began with their decision to home school me. When I was homeschooled, any time we went out in public during the week we’d get the obligatory, “shouldn’t you be in school.” Of course when my parents explained that we were homeschooled we’d get the ghastly reaction: “Can you do that?” “Is that legal?”
We faced constant criticisms from complete strangers and even family – that homeschooling was limiting the possibilities for my future – that I couldn’t amount to anything.
Well, now that kid stands before you today as a lawyer – having graduated from college, graduate school, and law school. This homeschooled kid is now barred to practice law before the Supreme Court of the United States.
And earlier this week I had the opportunity to stand the halls of the United Nations as I joined team of lawyers from the ACLJ in defending the State of Israel.
But all of that might not have happened. You see the criticisms growing up weren’t the worst of it.
I remember the day – when I was 7 or 8 years old – when a social worker banged on the door demanding to know why I wasn’t in school and threatening to take my siblings and I away from my parents.
After months of arduous school board hearings, meetings, threats, tears, and prayer, the county authorities finally relented – they finally obeyed the law.
See that was the problem. My parents were fully compliant with the law in Virginia, but the county and the school board didn’t like the homeschooling laws. The government didn’t want to recognize the law.
But one day that all changed. All it took was a pro-bono constitutional lawyer to show up at a county school board meeting on behalf of my parents, and the school officials caved.
I can point back to that moment as when the seeds of God’s calling in my life were planted.
I was the first child granted a religious exemption in Henrico County under one of Virginia’s home school laws.
Those stones laid the foundation for the lawyer I am today. Today, I get to defend constitutional freedoms and religious liberty with a non-profit law firm – the American Center for Law and Justice.
Today, I can say as Joseph did, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
So I remember these stones.
“What happens next” isn’t the right question. The right question is “what mean these stones?
You have graduated. You have put in immeasurable time and energy. You have overcome adversity.
Each of you has a story. God has brought you thus far.
Celebrate your accomplishment. Celebrate where God has brought you. Celebrate the sacrifice of your parents to get you here. And remember these stones.
Now remember I said you don’t have to answer the “what’s next” question. That doesn’t mean it’s not a question that needs answering.
Let God answer it.
Follow your calling.
For some of you that will mean college, for some of you graduate school.
For some of you it will mean vocational school or some form of apprenticeship. Remember the same folks who said you had to go to a traditional school are the same folks who said you have to go to college.
That may not be the politically correct thing to say, but it’s the truth. Now that’s not to say that college isn’t a good thing. It very much can be.
But maybe you’re not in a position to go right away. Maybe you’re are called into the ministry, missions, or maybe you need to get a good solid job right away.
I’m not here to tell you what your calling is, but I can tell you, you have one.
Pray. Talk to your teachers…er parents. Look back on the stones in your life and see where God may have been directing you.
As a homeschooled student you have faced more adversity and overcome many changes that others may not have faced so early in life. You are better prepared. You are better equipped. You are ready to take on the next challenges.
You may be standing in front of your own personal Jordan River right now. The waters may be raging, but watch what God is about to do.
So Class of 2016, remember these stones, follow your calling, and go change the world.