Summer is almost upon us and so is graduation season. Marked by ceremonies, memories and speeches, this time of the year closes a chapter in students’ lives and signals new beginnings.
This can be exciting and terrifying for a new graduate — or anybody about to start something new. Commencement speeches can remind graduates, and students just behind them, that just as one door closes, God opens another one leading to a new path.
At my college graduation from Loyola University Maryland, my classmates and I were reminded of life’s ultimate goal: to witness God’s love by being “men and women for others.”
Jesuit Father Brian F. Linnane, our college president, said that he hoped our education and experiences gave us the tools to have a commitment and connection to something larger than ourselves. This, he said, would serve the betterment of the world and also take us closer to our purpose in life.
His parting words were “God bless you” and “be happy.” But, what does ultimate happiness look like to you and your loved ones? There does not seem to be a single answer.
That’s because “the keys to happiness take different forms for each of us, because each of us has different ways of finding meaning, a different combination of values and priorities that guide us,” Father Linnane said back then.
He later cited a study of what made individuals happy. And even though happiness can look different for each person, there were some constants. Leading a healthy lifestyle, spiritual connectedness and lasting human relationships were main elements in the lives of those who were happy.
Trying to be healthier, more faithful to God and caring with our loved ones may seem simple, but to cultivate these traits requires work and commitment. Nurturing a spiritual life and giving and receiving love are not endeavors that you can do by yourself. It requires you to get out of yourself and show your vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Yet, the rewards of health, faith and love make our sojourn enjoyable for others as well as for us.
I recently saw this while working with senior high school students. By leading lives that helped them to grow in health, faith and love, the graduates seemed happy. They were hopeful for the future and had the drive to reach their goals and change the world.
One of them cited George Eliot: “By loops and zigzags, we now and then arrive just where we ought to be.”
This bit of wisdom was a reminder that the path through the different stages of life is seldom linear. But the journey takes us where God wants us to be. Certain chapters in life help us to grow. But each milestone has a purpose.
For God, every new door (or new chapter) eventually leads to his ultimate goal for us: salvation. We can work on being happy and making others happy throughout the journey.
May we grow in health, faith and love as we walk toward the next door.