A realistic commencement speech

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 30th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. It’s commencement season. And as we have observed,  sometimes that means suffering through long and meaningless speeches.

But there are some that are concise! Even inspiring and helpful. Today we’re going to hear one of those.

Ben Sasse is a U.S. Senator from Nebraska.

A few weeks ago he spoke with humor and candor to the graduates of Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

EICHER: Yes, it was really something. My son Benj, the brilliant economics student, is a 2019 Grove City graduate. So we got to hear Senator Sasse offer a Christian view of work and personal connection. Here’s an excerpt of what he had to say.

BEN SASSE: You live and are entering a world that is very, very, very dynamic. In terms of the last 12 years from when the iPhone was created and higher download speeds came about, or we went from 3G to 4G, which meant you went from a flip-phone to a smartphone, not that big of a deal. Right? Well, it turns out it spawned entirely new ways of organizing the economy.

You’re entering a world where freedom from constraint, time and place and all sorts of tasks that can be routinized are going to be routinized and there’s going to be more economic value created over the next decade than at any point any previous decade in human history. And yet, one of the most fundamental aspects of the world you’re entering into is that we’re so rich that we can skim across the surface of life in ways that make us think we don’t need roots.

I can just skip across the surface of life like a stone skipping across a pond, but it turns out one of the great dangers of being able to be rootless is you might think it’s possible to be happy being rootless, and it turns out almost everything that drives human happiness is not just freedom from a whole bunch of bad stuff you don’t want, but it’s freedom to, to love and to share and to pull on oars in the same direction with people, to be a part of shared projects, to have a sense of vocation, to have a sense of we. To be in it together.

You’re entering a world where lots and lots of you graduates over the course of the next ten years, you’re going to bounce from city to city, from job to job, from industry to industry. Average duration at a firm for a primary breadwinner when I was a kid…was 26 years. Average duration at a job now is 4.2 years and getting shorter. But lots of you are going to go off to some bigger city and two years from now and three years from now and four years from now, you’re going to have lots of new opportunities and lots of, that’s great. You’re going to be recruited to different places, but a lot of it’s also a little bit daunting because we’ve never had an experience in human history where people didn’t expect that the job they had at 25 or 30 was the job they were going to have at 55 or 60 and yet you’re entering a world where lots and lots and lots of the jobs in the industries you’re going into aren’t going to exist, not just when you’re 55 or 60 they’re not going to exist when you’re 30 or 35 and so the speed of automation, this speed of disruption is really scary.

And so it turns out one of the things that we know about happiness is that it’s highly correlated with whether you have a nuclear family, whether or not you have a few deep friendships.There’s a collapse of friendship in our time. Friendship is one of the most basic things that defines happiness. And what is friendship? I don’t mean it like social media friends…going from 200 to 500 to a thousand Facebook friends…and I don’t mean friendship in the way we use the word friendship in the Senate. “My good friend, the Senator from Vermont who’s face I’m about to tear off in a debate.” [LAUGHTER] Friendship is the picture that we know of, an expansive sense of the self where you’re in it with someone else and you can’t not choose to hurt if they hurt and you can’t not be happy when the world is working for them. Well guess what, in the last 25 years, the average American has gone from three and a half meaningful friendships to about 1.8 meaningful friendships. There’s been a halving a friendship and our time and place. 40 percent of Americans say they have no deep confidant—they have either zero or only one deep confidant—there is a lot of lonely people.

We live at a time of mass suicide. It is a bizarre moment in which we live. What’s going on? How could this be? It turns out if rootedness drives happiness and we’re so rich that we can be rootless, we might not be very good at figuring out what it looks like to build new habits of long-term love and affection and shared commitment. If we can just traipse across the surface of life. I think we live at a moment of new digital nomadism. You graduates are headed into a world where you’re going to probably go lots of different places and the economics of that are going to be bountiful. The cultural and friendship implications are going to be scary.

But you know what? Because of the faith that you have, because of the theology that underpins who you are and what you believe, it should be going off in your head. Something that says, “oh,” but it turns out that a feeling of homelessness is a theological condition.

We’ve constantly been foolish people who thought we were about to find our home in this world…Paul, as he exhorts us in Second Corinthians said, “we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands but rather eternal in the heavens.”

And that means not that you denied this world and this age, but rather that you can be stewards of this world in this age even if the communities to which your headed over the next decade maybe two and three year stops at a time. You’re not yearning to establish a permanent kingdom in those places. You know that Jesus is establishing the permanent kingdom and you get a life, to live a life of gratitude to him by being responsive with the unbelievable gifts of hospitality.

Wherever your hand finds work to do, recognize that all of your life is a gift from him, which means that all of your life is fodder and gift for you to give on to others.

And so as you take your degree, the important thing is not the parchment. The important thing is the opportunities you have to go and serve next. Pour yourself out for the Lord and he will refill your cup. Graduates commence. [APPLAUSE]

(Photo/Grove City College)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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