Two summers ago, I had the privilege of attending my cousin’s graduation from a prestigious university in California. With the excited buzz of graduation here at Franciscan quickly approaching, I have been reminded of this experience.
Although my cousin made it exceedingly easy to boast of her accomplishments (she graduated with two degrees in four years), in experiencing her graduation I rediscovered that nothing could be more fundamental and rejuvenating than the celebration of herself, simply as a unique individual. But in America, and indeed throughout the developed world, we have adopted a most lamentable principle. It has sunk into nearly every occasion, every conversation, and every expectation. Utility.
Somehow and somewhere along the path of progress, someone told us that we were no longer human beings, but rather human “doings”. And the worst of it? We ourselves have adopted this doctrine as the lens through which we see everyone around us, including ourselves!
When simply asked how we are doing, how many of us immediately default to responding how work is going? How much of our identity has been wrapped up in what degree we have (or have not) acquired? When did we reach a point where every elementary school kid wants to be a lawyer or a doctor, simply for the paycheck figures and status symbol? Where have we lost the understanding of human being? Can we find it? Reclaim it?
The first step is to look beyond a person’s accomplishments. It’s less about what a person has done and more about who he or she is. Here’s what I mean:
There I was, standing between family members, waiting for my cousin to ascend the stage and receive her degree. I haven’t seen my cousin much over the past few years because of our individual studies, because of work, because of distance, and because of acting like human doings rather than human beings. And it struck me. I was just so happy to be there with everyone. Just to stand with them. Just to behold them. Just for them. No strings attached, no expectations to be met.
Now don’t misunderstand me. What we do in the world through the course of our lives matters, but not exactly in the way we’ve been made to believe. It matters that we strive to consult the past, to find new answers to both old and new problems. It matters that we pursue careers that will help support our parents when they grow old as well as support the family we hope to build ourselves.
But it matters even more to treat others with respect, simply because of their personhood.
It matters even more to look beyond whether your child, sister, cousin, or niece will obtain a doctorate years before the national average or whether they will barely learn how to dress themselves in the morning. Look beyond. Beauty and goodness shine through every situation, just as the nobility of a forest can be seen even after winter snows have covered it, or fire devastates everything except what is underground. Life springs anew. The human person is beautiful, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and to share his or her company is one of the greatest goods we can encounter in this world and, even better, a foretaste of the next .
This is why every life should be seen in its infinite value. Not because of what another has the potential to accomplish in this world, but because God has accomplished in them yet another marvel to captivate us. One more completely unique individual in whose company we can rediscover our own humanity and rejoice.
Congratulations graduates! Well done in all of your studies and projects, but most of all, thank you for sharing yourself in this journey with me; it’s been a great ride. Let the next adventure begin!