This year I was honored to have been asked by the Class of 2010 to deliver the final chapel sermon on the day of graduation. I can’t say that this was the easiest talk I’ve had to prepare, but I am fairly pleased with the final result. The best advice I received was to write a sermon that I would have wanted to hear at my graduation.
I want to begin by thanking the Class of 2010 for this honor. After having to listen to me in the classroom as well as other settings for the past four years I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised that you’ve chosen to give me one more opportunity to speak with you. I hope my brief remarks prove worthy of your trust even if they stray a bit from the standard graduation day talk.
As I struggled to find a way to begin I kept coming back to that final scene in the movie, “Cast Away.” As many of you know the movie tells the story of Chuck Noland (played by Tom Hanks), who ends up stranded on a deserted island for 4 years after his FedEx plane crashes in the ocean. The movie follows Noland as he learns to survive both physically and psychologically on the island as well as his eventual reintegration into modern society. My favorite scene in the movie comes at the very end after Noland delivers one of the packages that washed up on shore and perhaps served as a continual reminder of a life and career that he hoped one day to return to. In that final scene Noland stands at the crossroads not knowing which way to go, but with the complete freedom to choose. The camera moves in and Noland, who stares back, confronts the viewer. It’s Noland’s expression, which I think is worth considering for a moment. It may be tempting simply to speculate about the choice that he will make or perhaps the choice that we hope he will make. However, the more I consider it the more I am convinced that his little smirk is meant for us. In other words, I believe that the audience is the focus of that particular moment and not Noland.
So, what might Noland be asking of us? Perhaps he is challenging the viewer to step back and reflect on her own life. What questions did we ask and what decisions did we make when standing at the crossroads? There may be a certain amount of anxiety for those of us looking back on our lives when confronted by such a challenge, but for those of you who sit in these seats for the final time with a bright-eyed optimism for the future I sometimes wonder whether you have the tough questions at hand for just these moments.
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