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2006 Commencement Address - Marybeth Clemmer

It is a great honor for me to share some thoughts with you on what is unquestionably a momentous day in our lives. I'd like to begin by saying thank you to the people without whom we would not have reached this day. To every parent, family member, and friend in the audience: you have been there for every moment of discouragement and every shout of triumph; thank you for your undying support and confidence. To every professor: you taught us to love learning and opened our eyes to knowledge as we had never seen it before; thank you for your commitment to us and our education.

To the Class of 2006: four years ago, this moment didn't seem possible. But four years, eight semesters, 16 sets of midterms and finals, 35 classes, 40 papers, 130 credits, and countless hours of studying later, here we sit. We have made it. Congratulations.

For each of us, this day represents the end of an endeavor-a moment of achievement. I will never forget a card my mom sent me during one particularly difficult week of my first semester. The front simply read: "I know you can." On the inside, she wrote: "Tuck this away and we can look at it on the day of your graduation and laugh and cry and cry and laugh!" I wasn't sure then if I'd live to see graduation, but here I am. Each of us today has reached the goal for which we set out four years ago, and even as we close our hands around our diplomas, we close the pages of this chapter in our lives.

Yet today is more than an end; it is a beginning-the first step of our next journey. There may not be a Bonicelli midterm looming on our horizon or a Twentieth-Century Europe final to cram for, but there will no doubt be challenges that make deciphering Mansfield's Taming the Prince or translating Virgil's Eclogues seem like mere child's play. So today, I hope to lend some perspective to this present moment of celebration and to encourage each of us for the journey that lies ahead.

Graduation is more than just a cause for celebration; it is a testimony to God's faithfulness. How many of us arrived here with no idea how we would be able to pay for our first semester, let alone the second, third, or fourth? How many of us wondered in the midst of midterms where we would find time to write four papers, study for three exams, and still make it to class on time. How many of us faced greater physical or emotional trials than ever before in our lives and questioned where we would find strength to push on? Yet here we are. God has been faithful.

Not only has our Heavenly Father been faithful to help us meet our educational goal, He will also be faithful to help us achieve the vision toward which that education was directed. We hear a lot about vision here at Patrick Henry. But sometimes, enveloped by the tedium of the inner workings of local politics or the radical deconstructionism of modern literary critics, the vision appears more like an idealistic freshman daydream than a realizable goal. But I want to encourage you not to give into cynicism.

Far from being symbolic of freshman naiveté, our vision enables us to actually have an impact in our world. As an intern in the White House this semester, I had the chance to see Patrick Henry from the outside, and I realized that what makes our students unique has nothing to do with their academic achievements or high SAT scores. Don't get me wrong- surrounded by Ivy League graduates and some of the most talented individuals in the country, I saw that Patrick Henry can more than hold its own on the academic playing field. But if academic success were the only characteristic of Patrick Henry graduates, we would be ill-prepared to do more than fill positions any number of other qualified applicants could fill. There are plenty of people who can do all we can do and better.

No, the thing that sets Patrick Henry students and graduates apart is that which also unifies us. We are bound together by the ties of a common faith and a common vision: our work is for Christ first and for liberty. Vision alone won't change a nation, but the God-centered personal character motivated by that vision will. That is what will make it possible for us to actually have an impact.

Aiming for a God-centered vision of impacting the world is much different than striving to climb the career ladder to a position of power. There are plenty of people who spend their whole lives aiming for one moment of greatness, thinking it will be what allows them to exert influence. But true influence is not found in a position; true influence is determined by personal character. The reality is, you may work your entire life to reach a single position, but if you cannot impact others outside of that position, you will waste years in the process.

Real influence occurs only when we seek first His Kingdom and allow God to lead us through whatever doors He chooses. If we have committed ourselves to building humility, pursuing excellence, and walking in integrity, we will have an impact no matter where He leads. If we develop our skills and talents in whatever venue we are given today, we will be prepared for whatever position may come tomorrow, and our ability to influence others will extend beyond our tenure in any given office.

So that's why I want to point your attention back to this day. God has been faithful not only to lead us to this college, but to complete the work for this season. He will continue to faithfully reward our personal commitment to excellence and character. He will lead, if we will follow. We may not be the next President of the United States or write the next great American novel, but our personal testimonies will make a difference that is just as important as either of these.

My prayer for each of us is that the journey we begin today will be filled with the excitement and joy of completing God's purposes for our lives. May we be ever reminded of His faithfulness and ever empowered by His strength. I am confident that, following His lead, we will truly make a difference for Christ in our nation and world.

Congratulations, Class of 2006.

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