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Commencement Address, by Mr. Yingling

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June 5, 2017

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Editor’s Note: The following speech was given during the Rio Lindo Adventist Academy graduation of 2017. As I was listening to Mr. Yingling’s wisdom passed on to the graduates, I felt that this advice is applicable to us at any age. If you’re short on time, just scroll down to his 5 5 Tips for surviving this Brave New World. Please enjoy!

Commencement Speech for 2017 Graduation

By Bruce Yingling, English Teacher

Friends, Rio staff, and families, I am honored to share with you this day of celebration and recognition for the Class of 2017. Seniors, from experience, you know I will say as much I can in the time I have.  After all, this is the last time I will have you as a captive audience. So, sorry, I am asking you one more time to sit quietly and pretend to be listening attentively. At least, I promise there is no clicker quiz tomorrow. For those of you who are anxious for commencement to be as short as possible, I have a joke for you: What is the difference between a boring book and a boring teacher?  You can shut the book, but cannot shut up the teacher—especially if he is your commencement speaker.

Seriously, I hope you’ve enjoyed your experiences at Rio, but it’s time to leave your high school years behind and face the increasing responsibilities and greater challenges that college and careers will bring. Today, I want be honest with you in describing the world you face, and at the same time give you a few tips on how not only to survive but also to thrive in that world.

In many ways you are lucky. You have grown up in time of unprecedented ease and prosperity. You have benefitted from both the industrial and technological revolutions: entertainment, information, and consumer goods from around the world are only a flick of your fingers away, food is cheap and plentiful, transportation can whisk you to the farthest corners of the earth for a fraction of the cost of only a few decades ago, and medical advancements enable you to live longer and look better. Even the poor have benefited from our modern consumer society. In 1970 there were 2.2 billion people in the world living in extreme poverty, and by 2015 that number decreased to 715 million.  Face the truth: all of us here are wealthy, even if we don’t feel that way.

As moderns, we have reached for the stars and danced on the moon, but there is a dark side to the prosperity we have achieved. For many of us, affluence and ease have resulted in self-indulgence, lethargy, and a sense of entitlement.  We have become so self absorbed that a Google search for the world “Selfie” will get more than 230 million hits. Kennedy’s famous line “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” has simply become “my country owes me and better pay up; someone else should sacrifice to balance the budget.”

Technology enables instant access to information on any topic; and yet as the years pass, the majority seems to know little and understand even less. The technology that has made our lives easier, also threatens our jobs and at the same time dulls our minds with entertainment, robbing us of the skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing world.  Like Jay Gatsby, we chase frantically after the dream of beauty, wealth, and accomplishment only to find that the American dream may already be fading into the past. The happiness we know we should, but don’t have, seems right at our fingertips—just one graduation, new job, romantic relationship, or purchase away; so while we wait, we try to relieve our pain and emptiness any way we can.

It’s time for some interaction. I am going to describe someone, and you tell me on a scale of 1-10  how happy he should be. He was brilliantly smart. His diversified financial portfolio made him one of the top billionaires in the world.He owned several multi-million dollar homes, some with panoramic views of his own vast vineyards. He had unlimited political power. His wine cellars held the finest wines, which he enjoyed frequently. Private musicians entertained him on demand. Numerous supermodels indulged his desires any time he wished. So how happy was he?

Interestingly, about 3,000 years ago Solomon aptly described the malaise of modernism. After describing the glory he had achieved, the pleasures he had enjoyed, and the wealth he had amassed, this is his sad commentary on life::

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure. . . .
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 10, 11)

Obviously, it took Solomon a whole lifetime to learn that more is not always better. I hope you learn that lesson sooner. I will give you credit, though. Millennials are often accused of being lazy because they are less ambitious than previous generations, but perhaps your generation is finally beginning to realize that quality in life brings happiness better than quantity in life.

In 1937 Aldous Huxley published The Brave New World, a chilling portrayal of life in an “ideal” consumer society. In this society, World Controllers rescued people from the chaos and catastrophe of a nine-years’ war by creating a new world where all babies were test tube babies that were genetically modified and conditioned to fulfill their assigned roles. Therefore, happiness was defined as “liking what you’ve got to do” and a child’s mind “the sum of suggestions.” Many of these suggestions programmed babies to grow up as ideal consumers, buying what they didn’t need and despising the simple pleasures in life, such as taking a walk on the beach, looking up at the moon, or reading a book.

Even more disturbing, lust replaced love, and a perfect drug with no side effects was used by everyone to relieve stress and end unhappiness. Promiscuity was required rather than discouraged, effectively stifling true love and destroying families, which which were considered rude and old fashioned.

In addition, consumerism required the elimination of the arts. For as the controller explained, “mass production necessitated the shift of emphasis from truth and beauty to comfort and happiness.” They replaced all art with entertainment that was nothing but “pure sensation.”

Modern advancements in medicine kept people beautiful and as sexually frisky as when they were teenagers, and as a consequence there was no need for a traditional God and religious worship. For as the Grand Controller said, they traded “youth and prosperity for God.” He went on to add that, “God isn’t compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness.” They traded the God of the Bible for Henry Ford, the father of mass production, and wore gold T’s in place of gold crosses.

Ultimately, the goal in the Brave New World was for everyone to stay infantile, allowing the government to gratify instantly all desires; and in return the people were to follow without questioning, work without complaining, and consume without stopping.

This world is a nightmare that no one would want to live in, right. But wait, in many ways Huxley predicted what our world would be like 40 years later. He actually described hospital patients watching TV as they lay dying when TV had barely been invented and there were no TV networks. We, too, are obsessed with sex and superficial beauty, dulled by entertainment that is technologically amazing but morally bankrupt, turned off by the study of history and literature, programmed to consume, enamored with the use of drugs, legal and illegal, to ease our anxieties and enhance our pleasure, and skeptical whether the God of the scriptures is compatible with a modern, scientific world.

Just this year, Senator Ben Sasse published a book titled The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self Reliance. He writes: “I believe our entire nation is in the midst of a collective coming of age crisis without parallel in our history. We are living in an America of perpetual adolescence. Our kids simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one.” As he explains, the statistics are daunting: 30% of college students drop out after the first year, and only 4 in 10 graduate. One in three 18-to-34 year-olds live with their parents.”

He said he was motivated to write the book because he and his wife want their children “. . . to arrive at adulthood as fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving  souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors.”   

And now for the good news! These qualities are what I want for you, class of 2017, and I honestly believe your time at Rio has given you a good start toward achieving them: At Rio, living in a dorm has forced you to learn personal responsibility, you have been challenged to think for yourself, you have become friends with a diverse group of students from different backgrounds and cultures, you have experienced service for others, and you have been invited to follow a God who offers a loving alternative to Huxley’s Brave new world where there is no faith, hope, or love.      

Sure, many Millennials are drifting through life with no ambition and no purpose, but you can join those of your generation who have found a higher calling. President Obama recognized the positive role of teens in his farewell address: “Let me tell you, this generation coming up—unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic—I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward.

Here are a five tips on how to survive the Brave New World:

Tip 1: Don’t avoid what makes you uncomfortable. One of the buzzwords on college campuses is the importance of having safe zones, and I am all for safety. In fact, I believe Rio has been a valuable safe zone for all of you. But on your journey to adulthood, growth comes only through conflict. As the cliché goes: “no pain, no gain.” You will not be successful if you are not willing to risk failure; and you will not ever find truth, if you are not honest with your doubts and willing to fight to overcome them.  

So instead of retreating into safe zones, I want you to expose yourself to ideas that you may even diametrically oppose and listen to those whom you may even dislike. At the end of his trial in which he was sentenced to death, Socrates turned to his accusers, and asked a favor: “When my sons are grown up, I would ask you. . . to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I have troubled you. . .”  That is what I wish for you, seniors.

Sadly, surveys show that over half of current college students no longer believe in free speech if that speech makes them uncomfortable.  Politically, in America we have divided ourselves into ideological enclaves, with neither side willing to listen to the other. If we do not change, our democracy will not survive; because without honest and informed debate and the willingness to compromise, there is no way government can deal with the complex challenges we face.

Academically, I want you to resist the temptation to gorge on the ready availability of surface information without digging below the surface and searching for the why’s, not just the what’s. When you are in college, and even after you leave, read books that are difficult to understand; listen to your professors, even if they are boring; and don’t rely on the internet for your ideas when writing reports and making presentations. Don’t define your views of yourself and others from social media. Instead, try to sort out and organize your own thoughts, even if that is a painful and time-consuming process.  If so, you will be courted, not rejected, when you try to enter the job market.

Tip 2:  Offset the stress of a modern lifestyle by spending time outside in nature.  Thoreau has been proven right by science when he wrote: “We need the tonic of the wilderness.”

We all know that spending time in nature reduces stress, and now here is the proof. A study found that spending a couple days in the woods reduced cortisol, a hormone that is a stress marker, and lowered heart rates. It also does so much more, according to numerous scientific studies. Did you know that when you took a break from study and walked the loop or hiked down to the river, you would actually do better on that tough Algebra II test. In a University of Michigan study, students were given a short memory test, then divided into two groups.  The group that took a walk in an arboretum improved their scores by 20 percent, as opposed to no improvement for those who took a walk on the city streets.

Another study found that “people immersed in nature for four days boosted their performance on a creative problem-solving test by 50%.” Personally, after a day of classes, I come home exhausted and feel like plopping down in front of the TV. If I resist the temptation and run or bike, I honestly feel invigorated and can think more clearly. In fact, many of the lines I used in this speech came to me when I was running.  

The reduced stress that comes from spending time in nature doesn’t just improve your mental health but has a positive impact on your physical health by reducing inflammation, ultimately reducing the risks for early death. I certainly hope you took advantage of the soothing and healing power of Rio’s beautiful natural setting. It seems to me that God truly designed us to live in a garden.

Tip 3: Practice Empathy:  In a recently published book, UnSelfie: Why Empathetic kids Succeed in Our All-About Me-World,  Michele Borba points out that “empathy—rather than being a nice ‘add-on’ . . . is in fact integral to . . . current and future success, happiness, and well-being.” She goes on to explain that “it promotes kindness, pro-social behaviors, and moral courage, and it is an effective antidote to bullying, aggression, prejudice and racism.”  Surprisingly, empathy not only makes us a better person but also a more successful one. The Harvard Business Review names empathy one of the “essential ingredients for leadership success and excellent performance.”  Borba states emphatically: “Empathy equals success.”

A new focus on developing empathy is important because shockingly “Teens now are 40 percent lower in empathy levels than three decades ago, and in the same period, narcissism has increased 58 percent,” resulting in skyrocketing increases in bullying, cheating and other destructive behaviors.

How do you become more empathetic? It’s fairly simple. On a daily basis practice basic human kindness, be willing to look at situations from the perspective of others, and learn to control your emotions rather than your emotions controlling you. If you do, as Hamlet said: “You will not be a pipe for fortune’s finger.” Or as Jesus said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Tip 4: Be a team player.  Most likely, you will have a job where you have to work effectively with others. So if you want to get a job and keep a job, you’d better practice your people skills by interacting with others and jumping in and contributing your own ideas and listening to the ideas of others in all of those dreaded group activities and projects.   As Michael Jordan, considered one of the all-time basketball greats, stated: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

When asked why he chose to change teams and become a Warrior, Kevin Durant commented: “You hear family a lot. . . That’s something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. . . I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form.” Yes, the Warriors have tons of talent, but beyond their talent is their focus on unselfish play and a willingness to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team.

We all accept the importance of teamwork in sports and in work, but when it comes to our relationship with God, more and more are rejecting church, claiming that they want a relationship with God without participating in organized religion. Sadly, 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out. Granted, the church is far from perfect and could do much more to attract the younger generation, but I challenge you not to give up Jesus because of those who misrepresent Him. If you want your faith in God to survive in an age of skepticism, you need to join a church team.  

Tip 5: Find your self validation through God’s love for you and the joy and fulfillment that comes naturally from allowing Him to guide your life.  Solomon ends his quest for meaning in life by accepting the fact that “the conclusion of the matter” is to “fear [or respect and worship], God and keep his commandments.” Ironically, the most challenging struggle we face is actually to quit struggling and submit our lives to God.  As pointed out by Solomon, when we chase after happiness through power, fame, or money the end result is going to be emptiness. No matter how hard we try, we can’t be beautiful enough, smart enough, athletic enough, or famous enough to meet our own and society’s inflated expectations. A whopping 85% of people suffer from poor self-esteem. I’ll never forget an interview I saw with Dustin Hoffman, one of the world’s most famous actors. He said that the fear of failure haunted him every day, and that after the completion of every successful project, he feared that the next one would be a disaster.

In Till We Have Faces, a religious allegory based on the Greek myth of Psyche and Cupid, C.S. Lewis deals with this issue. Orual, the central character, is constantly told by her father, the king how ugly she is. Her only joy in life is her beautiful half sister, Psyche. When God “takes” Psyche from her, she becomes bitter and angry with God and starts covering her face with a veil to hide her ugliness. Through a series of experiences, God helps Orual discover that her natural face is the face of Ungit, or the Devil, and that she has selfishly used all of the people she thinks she cares for. Then she tries through her own effort to find “goodness,” but fails.  Finally, she accepts the truth about her “ugliness” and her inability to find beauty through effort, and submits to God. At that point, God gives her a new face, which reflects His beauty.

I want all of you to let God give you a new face, experiencing what Peter wrote about in II Peter 1:2,3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them we may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”

In conclusion, class, you can give in to the indulgence, decadence, and doubt of the modern world or you can rise above it. And with God’s help, I am certain you will do the latter. Don’t give up on your dreams, even though the doubters will tell you that they’re unachievable; and, at times, every cell in your body tells  you that the path you have chosen is too difficult and that you’re too tired to keep going.    As Thoreau said,  “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Just remember that the cornerstone of that foundation needs to be Jesus. If so, you will be happy; you will make everyone in your sphere of influence happier and better; you will live a successful and fulfilling life; and one day, hopefully soon, you will truly rise to the heavens and enter a Brave New Universe where God rules with perfect love and sin and selfishness have been cast into oblivion.

Now it’s time to say goodbye. You are truly a phenomenal class that has enriched my life. Throughout your time at Rio, many of you have dazzled me with your musical virtuosity and thrilled me with your athleticism; others have awed me with a depth scholarship rare among high school students  and inspired me with your efforts to overcome challenges, including studying literary classics when English is your second language. And yes, at times, a few of you have frustrated me when I don’t think you are reaching your full potential in your class work. But for those in this category,  I do realize there are late bloomers. So like many others in the past, surprise me later when you accomplish great things.   Finally,  I thank all of  you for your friendly smiles, your words of encouragement, and your friendship. I will miss you  greatly. In conclusion, here is may prayer for you as you leave Rio.  

The Lord bless you

   and keep you;

25 the Lord make his face shine on you

   and be gracious to you;

26 the Lord turn his face toward you

   and give you peace.  (Numbers 6:24-26: )   

 

One Comment

  1. Steve Nicola says:

    Great speach Mr. Yingling. Your students are fortunate to have a thinking teacher with a spiritual as well as world view.

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