Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rwanda: Day Sixteen

After a final day of Cross Cultural Skills & Understanding and some good Braner naps, we headed to the Commissioning Ceremony (aka Fake Graduation, aka Fraduation).  It was a great night.  We took tons of pictures, laughed a lot, hugged a lot, cried some, were proud of ourselves and of one another and were a little sad that many of those dear friends in that room we may not see after next week.  What a blessing this Master's degree has been for me already just in terms of friendships.

The speech went surprisingly well.  Sylvia, the representative from the IDEV (International Development) cohort went first and it was perfect.  She is so sweet and wise and sincere.  It was great.  Then Lauren introduced me and said the most special things about me to the room.  The tears began then, but I think that I did a fairly decent job not blubbering my way through my speech about our wonderful LORG (Organizational Leadership) family.  I'm proud of the way I pulled it off.  (I'll be attaching it below mostly for my benefit several years in the future.)
Hays said this was the only picture he took of me giving my speech where I wasn't reading directly off the page or crying.  Clearly my career as a public speaker should end with last night!
My speech:

Like Sylvia and the IDEV cohort, I, too, would like to thank all of you who have made this journey possible.  We especially want to highlight Beth who has been our advocate, our teacher, our mentor and our friend.  We were fortunate to spend most of our first year following the path you, Beth, carved for us and led us down as we began our adventure towards becoming servant leaders.  And thank you Hays, Maggie, Tiki, Dax & Gabby for loving me, supporting me and for making me a better me.

Last year as I was sitting listening to the speeches by Beau and Natalie, my most lingering thought was how grateful I was that I wouldn’t be the one chosen by my cohort to be giving the speech this year.  And here I am.  God has a funny way of surprising me; tossing me far out of my comfort zone and making me better for it in the end.  Out of my entire cohort, why am I the one up here?  I don’t have an answer for that.  If I were Chantal standing here, I’d be saying something well thought through.  If I were Sap, I’d be speaking words of wisdom.  If I were Debbi, I’d be speaking out of the depths of my passions.  If I were Lauren I would be speaking from my soul with words that first came out of Christ’s mouth.  I am up here with knocking knees and hives creeping out of the neck of my fancy gown praying that my nerves will not turn into tears.

My cohort, like the IDEVers, is a unique and peculiar group.  We began as a cohort of seven representing six countries, three continents, ten languages and seven distinct passions all based on our heart for the Lord and for others because of what He did for us on the cross.  Jesus said that people will know that we are His followers because we love and that is true of each one of us.  Mark and Gady who aren’t here with us tonight brought laughter, compassion and experience that we miss without them in our cohort.  But the five of us who remain have become a dear family and for that I am grateful.

Michelle Obama said, when talking about mingling with a diverse group “. . . . Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose.” 

I think she may have been talking about the LORG class of 2015.  We don’t agree all of the time.  We challenge and sharpen one another as we push the boundaries of our convictions.  But we have pulled one another through a year which brought every single one of us into the valley and out again as God stretched us beyond what we believed were our limits—those limits in our own personal and professional lives that had nothing to do with grad school and studying and papers and educational journals.

Sap, the only male left in our group who is so consistent and so steady and so joyful was pushed and pulled multiple ways throughout the year.  We watched as Debbi’s heart broke and encouraged her as God began to put each piece of that broken heart back together.  We witnessed Chantal blossom into a courageous and strong woman as she was put into a leadership position she well deserved.  Lauren’s life spanned the continents this year as her health waivered, her family changed dynamics and she made a big life decision to leave Kenya.  My year was marked with loss and struggle and hurt and my cohort was there throughout it all.  We may not have known all of the details of each specific struggle or victory, but we were there and we became a family this year—a family who was put together without choice but who have become unlikely and forever friends nevertheless.

John Quincy Adams said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.  I am in a group of leaders because each one of them, in his or her own way, has inspired me to do all of the above.  My dreams are bigger because of Debbi and her fiery passion for life.  I want to learn more because of Lauren and her deep knowledge of who God is.  I want to do more because of Sap and his hands on dedication to his job.  And I want to become more because of Chantal and the way she has overcome so much in her life and in her culture to get to where she is.

I hate to be the person who laces her speech with the words of other people, but so many people have said it so much better than I ever could.  Julie Andrews said, Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. . . . . Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in.” 

Everyone in my cohort and in the IDEV cohort is doing this.  I have felt very inadequate over the past year because of the amazing work that each of these people you see in their caps and gowns tonight are doing.  I was in awe the entire residency in Uganda.  I couldn’t believe that I even deserved to be sitting in the same room as all of them.  But now they are my friends, they are my family and they have helped me to see that I, too, am a part of something good and decent and I am an ambassador for the kind of world that I want to live in and the kind of world I want my children to grow up in.  Most graduation speeches are challenges to go out and make the world a better place, but that is what every one of these year two students are already doing—that is what every one of us in this room are doing.  I have been awed, inspired and humbled by each one of you over these past 54 weeks:  Lauren, Chantal, Debbi, Sap, Sylvia, Malason, Jeremy, Emily, Emily, Eric & Shelley Thank you for silently pushing me towards greatness because of the examples you are all setting by the selfless lives you each are leading.

One final quote because I believe that this sums up what we are all doing here in Rwanda with Eastern University.  It is both what we are already doing and a great reminder for us when the days get long and the opposing voices get loud.  Teddy Roosevelt said,

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but (instead) who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end  the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."  

Thank you all and may these next nine months find you in the Lords hand as we go our separate ways, dream our separate dreams, enjoy our wild successes, live, laugh, stumble, fall, and get up again so that we can cross the finish line together when we actually finish this race and graduate in May.  Let us battle mediocrity every single day and dare to be excellent.

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