Jona Eigege delivers his remarks to the Class of 2015 on Saturday, May 23, 2015.
On Saturday, May 23, 2015, after beginning with welcoming remarks to those in attendance, Jona Eigege '15 turned to his classmates and delivered these remarks:
Allow me for a moment to speak on your behalf, as one of you, from your perspective, our perspective, into just a microcosm of the stories that make us who we are, as a class of 2015.
I am a Goldwater Scholar, I am an academic All-American. I'm a budding social linguist whose been published and recognized for my work. I am intelligent. I am a visionary. I am a Calvin Knight.
I am a teacher, dedicated to mending the gaps in urban education, tackling head on the biggest civil rights issue in America today. I am convicted. I am unrelenting. I am a Calvin Knight.
I am an international student who has become adept in cross-cultural engagement. I even learned how to play ultimate frisbee. I am an American, but my skills have driven me to Jordan, to Romania, to Australia. I tackle local. I impact global. I am a Calvin Knight.
I am a national champion. I run Boston. I am part of a team that will go down in history. I may be quiet, but my pen packs a punch. My art enlightens. My voice reframes narratives. My songs speak truth. I am gifted. I am uplifting. I am a Calvin Knight.
I am a father who left my high paying job in corporate America to follow my dream of becoming a biologist. I am that first generation college student who many said would never graduate. I've worked three jobs and maintained my 4.0 GPA. I am courageous. I am resilient. I am a Calvin Knight.
My story has brought me from fleeing persecution in the mountains of Myanmar to becoming the first female engineer at a firm in Holland, Michigan. My story has taken me from a small town in Michigan to drafting healthcare reform on Capital Hill. My story is phenomenal. My story is only beginning. I am a Calvin Knight.
Friends, it is true, our stories are phenomenal. They are also only beginning. And even though the combination of those factors is the reason why everyone in this room today is justified in their belief that we will change the world, it is also the reason if we aren't careful and diligent that we might not even come close to actualizing the change we are well equipped to generate.
Here's what I mean. There's an unspoken problem associated with achieving so much and doing so well at an early age. We live in a society that values people for what they do, not who they are. It values them for their utility. As we step into the world, the sad truth is that in many instances our importance will be derived from how we are able to add to the bottom line. Now insert our class, our list of crazy achievements, our resilience, the virtues President Le Roy said we embody, and our Calvin education, our track record of producing well beyond our years. Even if you don't consider yourself one of the best and brightest, let me assure you that you are set apart for unique things, great things.And yet there is no doubt about how society sees us, we are prime cogs for its machine, and sadly to society, in some cases, that's all we are.
The real damage is done when we begin to see ourselves through those same lenses, that mind shift eventually translates into a life shift. The focus of our lives become ourselves, our dreams, our progress; instead of His fame, His glory, His Kingdom. That's the reason why certain achievements become mediocre, certain opportunities not worth our time, certain relationships not worth the investment, and the process of truly engaging in God's world, a hindrance to our dreams of occupying the top rung on the ladder of success. "Success."
We begin to focus on the things that don't matter, we buy into the narrative that when we produce enough or are at the top we will begin to create impact. We get complacent as the work of renewing God's kingdom, the work of changing the world, goes on without us. But this is not a complacency based on inadequacy, it's a complacency based on our desire to "wait for the right conditions" before we begin to act—a complacency sourced in the infiltration of our psyche by the narrative that we can't contribute unless we were where we thought we would be, at the top.
This past semester I took chemistry 101. I have to say science is not as bad as I thought. In early April, as we began to study chemical reactions we learned about catalysts. I really believe that that's what God calls us to be in His work of renewing the world. We are catalysts of the Kingdom.
What's interesting about catalysts is that they are never interested in product, they are all about the reactants. If we truly want to be agents of renewal in God's world we need to be about the process. This truth is evident when we make the world our lab and examine this issue through the lens of history.
For Thomas Edison, the process was over a thousand iterations, altering his design marginally each time until he got his light bulb to work. For Rosa Parks, an unassuming seamstress, it was taking a seat on a bus, a simple, but principled act that defied the status quo of a bus system, and a city and a nation and a system divided. For Nelson Mandela, the process was 50 years of struggle, 27 of them in solitary confinement on an island far removed from the people and the cause he was advocating for.
I really don't think any of these individuals set out to change the world. They just found a place where their passion and the world's deep need intersected. They found their vocation and committed their being to the propagation of those processes. They could, because it was never really about them, and even as people whom I'm sure many expected great things from, they never succumbed to the pressure to prove their worth. Today, we remember them as people who changed the world because of their dedication to the process.
Class of 2015, today especially the processes are unfolding stories, the 910 paths that will leave this room. Realize that you are part of something bigger than yourself. You are part of God's story. Don't get complacent. Don't get comfortable. There is work to be done and the time to start is now.
I would like to close with an excerpt from a paragraph written in honor of archbishop Oscar Romero, a Salvadorian priest who exemplified a process-over-product lifestyle and is actually being [beatified] today in El Salvador.
It helps, now and then,
to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny
fraction of the magnificent enterprise
that is God's work.
We may never see the end results, but that is
the difference between the master builder
and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders;
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future that is
not our own.
Class of 2015, go into the world and do well. But, more importantly, go into the world and do good. Go into the world and as Christ's catalysts for renewal, change it for His name's sake.