Service through Presence

service through presence

I graduated with my PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision on May 12, 2018.  I was privileged to be the commencement speaker for Adams State University’s graduate school ceremony.  Below is the text of my Address:

Great Accomplishment

Graduates!! Is this a great day or what?!!

If you are like me, there were moments in the last several years when you thought this moment would never get here. You are relieved, thankful, and excited to walk across that stage. Today is a GREAT DAY!

Family members, friends, and supporters this is a great day!

This is the day you get your loved one back. It is as though they have been on a long journey and today you pick them up at the airport! Hopefully they have not lost their luggage.

Adams State Administration, Faculty, and Staff today is the culmination of years of planning and hard work. It is a birthday of sorts. You celebrate and honor a new crop of graduates poised to enter their respective fields with energy, excitement, and passion. Today is a Great Day!

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of this moment and the degrees we receive today. For us graduates these robes, hats, and diplomas represent a pinnacle of academic success. We have spent countless hours, immeasurable amounts of energy, and years of disciplined focus to accomplish what is awarded in this commencement. Only about 8% of people earn a graduate degree. There are a lot of really smart and hard working people in this room. It is incredible to have done this it is a rare accomplishment. It is as though we have scaled Mt. Everest.

This is a historic moment for Adams State University. It is the first time that the university has awarded the degree of Ph.D. Conversations and plans for this moment began to take shape in 2009. 5 years later the counselor education department enrolled its first group of Doctoral students. Now, 4 years after our initial interviews, “cohort 1” will be awarded our degrees. We have often discussed how thankful we are to have been members of this first cohort. First, we are thankful because we have grown close and could not have done it with out one another. Second, we are thankful because of the level of commitment, support, and excellence demonstrated by the counselor education department and Adams State University. The awarding of these first Ph.D. degrees is truly a huge accomplishment.

A great accomplishment is that the ultimate meaning to be found in awarding and earning these degrees? Did we do all this work and sacrifice all that time, just so we could say, “I did it”? We have reached a “Mt. Everest” moment.   Here we are sitting on the summit soaking in the beautiful view, but Why? Why in the world would we go through all that we have gone through for (a piece of paper, a funny hat, and a fancy robe) this?

Did you know that 30% of the deaths on Mt. Everest over the last 100 years have occurred while descending from the summit? These men and women made it all the way to the top but never made it home to share the experience with their loved ones and communities.

Service Through Presence

Fellow graduates, administration, faculty, and staff I don’t seek to minimize the accomplishments of the day. I have come to believe, however, that in my journey, and I think maybe in yours the ascent to great accomplishment is meaningless without a descent into a life of service.

If the accomplishment is to be meaningful then it has to be more than the paper, the hat, and the robe. I think the best way to make these things more than just accomplishment is to take what we have learned, return home (descend) and serve those we love and our communities.

I confess that I am not good at this. I began this doctoral program hoping that more experience and education would create a safe distance between the most difficult people in my community and myself. I think I hoped for more peace of mind, safety, and something easier. It is tempting to return home and live in this distance. I am convicted, however, that just the opposite is needed.

Henri Nouwen, a 20th century theologian, professor, and author describes in his book, “The Wounded Healer” what the most difficult people in our communities need, he says,

“The emptiness of the past and the future can never be filled with words, but only by the presence of a human being”

Our accomplishments are made meaningful when they compel us to be PRESENT with those we love and our community. Nouwen goes on to explain what this life of service through presence may cost us.

He says, “Who can save a child from a burning house without taking the risk of being hurt by the flames? Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in their own heart and even losing their precious peace of mind? In short, who can take away suffering without entering it?”

Our descent into a life of service through PRESENCE will require suffering. Suffering? I was hoping for less stress and less chaos. I was thinking about a more sanitized version of “helping others”. Something, where I equip others to get dirty while remaining at a safe distance.

I have come to realize that “safe distance” is not part of the servants vocabulary. Service through presence is a dangerous endeavor.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “ The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”

John Maxwell said, “leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.

The bible uses a farming analogy to equate service with death,

“I tell you the truth unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” John 12:23.

I am so sorry to be such a downer, This is a GREAT DAY after all

Yet, I believe that today is made even greater when we consider it a commissioning for service.

May we relish our time at the summit today. Take a moment to enjoy the view and celebrate the obstacles overcome.

Then, tomorrow may we descend into our communities to serve through presence. It will not be easy, it may come at incredible cost, BUT it will be MEANINGFUL

Check out my blog Parenting Boys Raising Men

Read about my approach to counseling




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