Yesterday, my little sister graduated from college. Not just any college, but one of the best schools in the country, and thereby the entire world. Penn. This letter is for her:Carrie,
First of all, I’m incredibly bummed that I couldn’t make it to your graduation in Philly. I really wanted to be there but, you know, things don’t always work out. Hopefully I’ll see you in New York this weekend. (?)
Anyway, I want you to know that I am utterly blown away by your graduating from Penn. Not that I didn’t expect you to be able to do it, but simply because so few people that walk this earth ever get to attend college at all, much less one of the best in the world. Also because I went to college and (finally) graduated and it was honestly one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. Quite possibly the most. Nothing has ever taken me longer and nothing has ever challenged me so much to deny myself and press on like college.
When I registered for classes at UALR (damn right), my advisor (who was also the dean of the college) sat down with me and pulled out a list of the classes I would need to graduate. Each class had a little checkbox next to it. They were all blank. He pointed to the list and said “These are hoops. Jump through them all and I’ve give you a piece of paper that says you’re a certified hoop jumper.” There were a lot of hoops on that list and to be honest, it was daunting. I didn’t want to do it.
Everyone has things in life that are terrifyingly daunting, and I imagine that registering for classes at Penn was one of those things for you. Buying books and getting a dorm room and laying down that first night and knowing that you really are doing it. Staring up at the ceiling, thinking about getting up in the morning and brushing shoulders with some of the smartest kids in the country. To me that thought is not unlike setting out to swim the Atlantic. You know it is possible, because it is just water, but damn - its going to be tough. Nevertheless, though, you suited up and dove in with a shrug and a laugh - and that’s what I love about you.
Something that’s always been compelling to me about the Bible is that all throughout the Old Testament, whenever people have major life experiences, or encounters with God, or they witness miracles, or defeat a major enemy, they will build altars as reminders to themselves and to future generations.
It’s an interesting thought, to acknowledge the importance of the future need for a reminder, right when you have just seen or experienced that thing you know you’ll never forget. The people of the Old Testament were smart enough to know that as life goes on, you tend to forget your big moments. Because many of them were nomadic people, they were always on the move, and so these big moments would happen at random places across their country, and they would pause their journey and build these tall monuments to remember whatever it was they didn’t want to forget. They made a point to build them tall enough so that wherever they were on their journey in the future, they would always be able to look back and see that tower rising up above the hills, like a stake in the ground - claiming their past for themselves again and again.
So throughout a life, as a man got older, anytime he needed some encouragement, he could climb up to a high point in the land and see all these altars, these monuments to his past, scattered across the horizon, shouting undeniable memories back at him, flooding his old mind with scenes and memories and words, and I imagine one would leave a high perch like that fully confident that he could face any further trials that might come his way - scoffing at hardship.
And so my point is this:
Build an altar. Build an altar to your accomplishment. Build a monument in your soul that you can always return to as life goes on. Things will happen in life that will utterly devastate you, and as young people we don’t even know the half of it. You will need encouragement as you go on, and sadly, often times there is no one to offer it. You can let these trying times bog you down, or you can climb up to a high place, clear your mind, and look out over the many altars of your past.
Don’t downplay it.
Don’t lower yourself to what others expect you to be.
Stand and be the person you are. A goofy, hilarious, beautiful, down-to-earth, wildly intelligent, certified hoop-jumper who swam the Atlantic ocean and crawled out on the other side with the same shrug and the same contagious laugh she started with.
Don’t be worried about the future.
You can do anything you set out to do.
Just be yourself.
You’ll do fine.
With utmost love, respect, and admiration,
PS - If you ever need anyone to remind you that you graduated from Penn like a total champ, give me a shout.