Month: May 2020

Memorial Day, Saving Private Ryan, Abraham Lincoln, and the trombone

Memorial Day, Saving Private Ryan, Abraham Lincoln, and the trombone

In the United States, yesterday was Memorial Day. A national holiday, it is a day of remembrance to honor and mourn those who died while in the service of the United States Military. It is often observed with parades, speeches, cemetery visits, and non-related things like family picnics and cookouts that celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer. This year, the coronavirus pandemic curtailed many of those traditional events but the significance of Memorial Day remains undiminished. We owe a great debt of gratitude to those who died serving our country. That gratitude can never be overstated and it can never be repaid.

Yesterday, my wife and I watched the Steven Spielberg motion picture, Saving Private Ryan, for the first time. Released in 1998, the movie is considered to be one of the most significant movies of all time. It took me 22 years to decide to watch it because I am not a person who likes/enjoys/wants to see graphic portrayals of violence. I had heard about the movie’s intense opening 30 minute scene of the beginning of the D-Day invasion. My heart wanted to see the movie but my stomach was not sure.

But yesterday, on Memorial Day 2020, it was time. We watched Saving Private Ryan in our home (Blu-Ray) and found the movie to be a powerful, moving reminder of sacrifice and service. Yes, some scenes were very intense. Very, very intense. But even the most intense scene could only communicate a fraction—a very small fraction—of what those who served in war actually experienced. I’m glad we watched it, and I will watch it again.

I had another reason for wanting to watch Saving Private Ryan. I played on the movie’s soundtrack.

02.Yeo_Williams_Fanfare_for_Fenway_2012

As readers of The Last Trombone know, I was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1985-2012. During the early years of my tenure in the orchestra, John Williams was the conductor of the Boston Pops and after he left that position, he continued a fruitful relationship with the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops that continues to this day. My respect for him is enormous, and I was very fortunate to record many Boston Pops albums under his direction, and also be the first bass trombonist to perform his Tuba Concerto (on bass trombone, in May 1991) with the Boston Pops with John conducting. The photo above shows John and me in Symphony Hall, Boston, taken at a recording session in 2012 for his Fanfare for Fenway, that celebrated the 100th anniversary of Boston’s Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox.

Saving_Pravate_Ryan_soundtrack_cover

Saving Private Ryan was the second John Williams film score that I recorded as a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, following on the recording sessions for Schindler’s List in 1993. The soundtrack for Saving Private Ryan was recorded over three days in February 1998 in Symphony Hall. I recall Steven Spielberg being there for all of the sessions, and Tom Hanks (who had the role of Captain John H. Miller in the movie) being in attendance at the first session. The music is very unconventional for a war movie: there is no loud music. Instead, Williams used music mostly to guide the audience in both anticipation and contemplation of combat. There is no music during battle scenes.

The movie’s longest musical segment occurs at the end of the film, over the credits. That music, titled “Hymn to the Fallen,” features a long brass chorale that still, 22 years later, moves me to tears. You can hear the recording of “Hymn to the Fallen” for the Saving Private Ryan soundtrack by clicking below or you can hear it on YouTube by clicking HERE.

This is not a movie with loud trombone playing like Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. What you’ll hear are trombones in a supporting role, adding depth and texture to strings, and stepping forward from time to time in chorales, soft but intense rhythmic punctuations, and contemplative warmth.

Saving_Private_Ryan_credits

Seeing the movie yesterday for the first time brought back a flood of memories about those recording sessions. Tim Morrison and Tom Rolfs played the beautiful, haunting trumpet solos and duets, and Richard “Gus” Sebring did the same on french horn. Ronald Barron, Norman Bolter, and I were the trombone section and Gary Ofenloch and Chris Hall played tuba, substituting for Chester Schmitz. Spielberg and Williams wanted to record with the Boston Symphony in Symphony Hall rather than with a studio orchestra because they wanted to “hear the air” of the hall in the music, and work with a group of players who played together everyday and understood Williams so well.

Then Boston Globe music critic Steven Dyer wrote a long article about the recording sessions that describes some of the back room scenes and work of those days in February, 1998. You can read that article HERE.

Also, at the beginning of the first recording session, Tom Hanks read the letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Mrs. Lydia Parker Bixby who had lost five sons in the Civil War. Written on November 21, 1864, it was first published in the Boston Evening Transcript four days later. It remains one of the most poignant consolations I have ever read, and the letter figures both in the plot and the narrative of Saving Private Ryan. Here is the letter as first published in the Boston Evening Transcript:

Bixby_Letter_newspaper

If you’ve seen Saving Private Ryan, you have your own thoughts about the movie. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so if you feel you can handle intense depictions of the brutality of war. If you can’t—like I felt I couldn’t for the last 22 years—you might want to pick up the soundtrack album. The movie is a strong reminder of the sacrifice and heroism that we  gratefully recognize on Memorial Day. The music is haunting, moving, powerful, and contemplative. I often turn to Hymn to the Fallen when I need music to help me think about or remember something important. It has become a kind of Adagio for Strings (of Samuel Barber) for our time.

Memorial Day. Saving Private Ryan. Abraham Lincoln. And the trombone. They’re all tied up in my memory.

Making and sharing music in a challenging time

Making and sharing music in a challenging time

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered concert halls and theaters, opera houses and nightclubs. Live music with multiple performers working together in a collaboration just can’t be done in public in most places these days.

Yet musicians are finding creative ways to bring music to a world that seems to need it now more than ever. A day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t forward me a video of some group of performers who put together a music video with a number of “socially distanced” players who have recorded a track individually and then put it together to make a group performance. I’m involved in a project with some friends as well; more on that once we get it done. Some of these projects are not very well done or are just not that interesting to me, but others make me smile, cry, laugh, and celebrate. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Milwaukee Symphony has recorded Edward Elgar’s “Nimrod” from his Enigma Variations. I find this performance very moving on a lot of levels, especially because the music itself is so compelling. Among those members of the orchestra who are performing are my friends, second hornist Dietrich Hemann and his wife, principal trombonist Megumi Kanda, who share a screen. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

In 1996, the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded an album of music to celebrate the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. Conducted by John Williams, it included many works that had been written for previous Olympic games, as well as Summon the Heroes, a fanfare which Williams wrote for the Atlanta games. I was a member of the Boston Symphony at that time (1985-2012) and I count recording that album as one of the most memorable events of my musical career. Recently, 50 members of the Boston Pops Orchestra recorded Summon the Heroes once again, conducted by Boston Pops conductor, Keith Lockhart. Tom Rolfs plays the trumpet solo and the low brass section is Toby Oft, Steve Lange, Jim Markey (bass trombone), and Mike Roylance (tuba). To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

I’ve played many concerts – playing serpent, ophicleide, and bass sackbut – with Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, an early music group based in Boston. Here’s a fun video by H&H principal flutist Emi Ferguson who makes a do-it-yourself baroque flute. Seriously! And it sounds great (and Emi sounds great, too). Try it! To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Here is a new piece, All Day Long (The Coronavirus Song), written by my friend, Paul Langford, and his 14 year old daughter, Chloe. Paul has been a singer and arranger for the acapella group GLAD for many years and I think this original song and Chloe’s performance are absolutely terrific and inspiring inspiring. And there’s euphonium and trombone content, too! For more about the piece and how it came about, see this article from Chicago’s WBZ; click HERE to read it. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Terry Everson is professor of trumpet at Boston University, and a good friend of our family since he and his family moved to Boston in 1999. Terry served as principal cornet of the New England Brass band for most of my tenure as the band’s music director, and he is a super trumpet player (and teacher), pianist, and arranger. In this video of John Dykes’ Holy, Holy, Holy, Terry is joined by his wife, Lori, on violin, and their son, Peter, who just graduated with a degree in trumpet performance from Boston University. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Mashups of classical and popular music don’t usually work for me, but this performance of J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Paul Simon’s American Tune does. The group is The Knights, joined by vocalist Christina Courtin. American Tune is my favorite pop song; it has been since it was first released on Simon’s solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, in 1973. The music is adapted from a tune by Hans Leo Hassler, adapted by J. S. Bach in his Saint Matthew Passion as, O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded). The group gives a superb performance of Bach’s Concerto, and Courtin’s take on American Tune is honest, heartfelt, and moving. Paul Simon’s text never felt more relevant to me than in this challenging time; he could have written it yesterday. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

Our youngest daughter, Robin, is Director of Public Relations for San Francisco Symphony. She recently shared this fine performance of Paul Dukas’ Fanfare from La Peri, featuring members of the San Francisco Symphony brass section. And while you have the San Francisco Symphony on your mind, take the time to view the orchestra’s excellent video series, Keeping Score, where music director Michael Tilson Thomas and the orchestra provide an in-depth look at some of classical music’s greatest works including compositions by Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, Ludwig van Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, and many others. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

The coronavirus pandemic is challenging for all of us. But in the midst of the storm, we can hold on to the promise of God: He is faithful. Stevener Gaskin, who is Intercultural Arts Associate at Wheaton College where I teach trombone, has contributed an inspiring video – Faithful Promise –  in his unique performance style. I have heard Stevener in person several times and I’ve never failed to be moved by his work. This video was filmed in part on the front campus of Wheaton College; you will see the College’s first building, historic Blanchard Hall, in the background. I return to this video over and over again to be encouraged to persevere through this storm, knowing that God is faithful and He will bring us through this, even as we pray that we will also learn the important lessons God would have us see and understand that are already unfolding before us. To view this video on YouTube, click HERE.

[Header image of coronavirus in headphones from Variety.]

A different kind of graduation day

A different kind of graduation day

Today is graduation day at Wheaton College, Illinois. The college is both my undergraduate alma mater and also where I now teach trombone to eager, gifted, and hard-working students. One of my students, Brendan, is graduating today. But instead of walking down the aisle of Edman Chapel with his classmates, hearing an inspiring commencement speech, praying and singing with faculty, administrators, families, and fellow students, and then having joyful celebrations at home with food, friends, and relatives, today’s graduation ceremony takes place in the form of a celebratory YouTube video followed by a Zoom meeting. I’ve just finished watching it. It was very nice; it was very joyful; it was very meaningful. But it was different. Still, I am confident that our graduates of 2020 will remember their graduation every bit as vividly as I remember mine. Each graduation is unique, and its memory becomes a part of us.

D-Yeo_JTHS_1973

I’ve received a degree at three graduation ceremonies. I graduated from Jefferson Township High School in New Jersey, 1973. I think the ceremony was outside, on the school’s football field. I only have one photo from that day, a blurry snapshot of me with my mom and dad, taken in our backyard before we left home for the event, above. I received the senior class awards in music and English during the ceremony. People often say that music and math go together. Not for me. I can’t even do basic arithmetic much less mathematics. My body seems to reject math and science. Happily for me, my wife excels in those things so we are a good pair.

Pat_Doug_Hudson_Armerding_May_1976

My graduation from Wheaton College in 1976 was very memorable. The weather was nice, my parents and my wife’s parents travelled to Wheaton from New Jersey for the festivities, and the next day, Pat and I headed back to New Jersey to start our new life in New York City. After the ceremony, she and I had a conversation with Wheaton College’s President, Hudson Armerding (photo above), one of the most godly men I have ever known and a person whom I still hold in the highest esteem.

Three years later, in 1979, I graduated from New York University. Thousands of students graduated that day so a single representative from each of NYU’s colleges received their degree on the platform on behalf of the other graduates. My strongest memory from that day in Washington Square Park was that I played in the NYU band, doing my part to play Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 2 more times than I could count. And I also got paid to play in the band that day. $25, I think. Nice. I don’t have a photo from that day; nobody had yet thought of what we, today, call a “selfie.”

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I last attended a graduation ceremony in 2016, my final year as Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University.  In that year, I had six students walk the aisle; every student walked and received their diploma. Seeing this photo (above) brings back so many memories. Look at those smiling faces. Timothy Hutchens (DMA), Paul Lynch (MM; he went on to receive his DMA at ASU a few years later), Kristie Steele (BME), David Willers (BME), Adam Dixon (MM; he also went on to receive his DMA at ASU a few years later), and Emmy Rozanski (DMA).

Today’s graduation ceremonies are different due to the coronavirus pandemic. But we should not for a second think that the accomplishments of our students who graduate today are any less for the fact that their commencement celebration comes across a computer monitor rather than in a football stadium, college arena, or chapel. Today, we celebrate their completion of a race, and their turning of a page to a new chapter. These are ones who will change the world, who will make a difference. We applaud them, celebrate them, and want to encourage them. And so we do. I have just finished watching the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music virtual graduation celebration. I laughed a little, cried a little, and was very grateful. I found it very meaningful to hear Dean Michael Wilder reflect on the last four years, see and hear reflections by graduates, and greetings from faculty. I don’t know how long it will stay up on YouTube but it’s there now. If you want to see a meaningful graduation celebration for the class of 2020, click HERE. Thank you, Wheaton College, for having the vision to put together something so joyful, emotional, and meaningful.

On June 10, 2006, I gave the commencement address at Caritas Academy of Arts and Sciences in Massachusetts. As I reviewed those comments, which appear HERE on my website, I realized that I could have written them yesterday.They are just as timely today as when I wrote them 14 years ago.  I titled my comments, “Hold on to Hope.” Hope is very much a part of our thinking right now where the world is upside down. I thought I would share it again here on The Last Trombone. To graduates everywhere: congratulations! And please, hold on to hope.

HOLD ON TO HOPE

Graduation address by Douglas Yeo
Caritas Academy of Arts and Sciences, Hudson, Massachusetts
June 10, 2006

You may sit here wondering, “What can a trombone player from the Boston Symphony bring to a high school graduation ceremony? Especially if he doesn’t have a trombone in his hand?” That’s a good question. And it is my fervent prayer that you will have an answer to that question in a few minutes time.

I bring to each of you today a warning, a hope, and a task. On occasions such as this, speakers are called upon to offer inspiring words of wisdom to the graduates, a pat on the head to the parents, and encouragement to faculty. But honesty requires something more. I will not pray an Irish blessing over this graduation, as I know that the road will not always rise to meet you, and the wind will not always blow softly at your back. Life is hard. We live in a desperately fallen world, one in need of the redemption that comes only through Jesus Christ. It is a world that screams of its fallenness – natural disaster, war, famine, ethnic conflict, hatred. Discouragement is there for the picking, temptation is constantly knocking at your door. The burden of “doing the right thing” is often suffocating. You do not need platitudes from me. I come with something different. Something “other.”

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

Some of you know the context of these words, don’t you? They’re the opening of Dante’s Inferno, the first of the books of his Divine Comedy which includes Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Wandering from the straight path, we find ourselves in a dark wood. The dark wood may be something literal, such as a wrong turn when trying to get somewhere and you end up in a forest – or in Connecticut. But more often than that, do we not all end up in a metaphorical dark wood sometimes – the dark wood of an exam without adequate preparation, the dark wood of a confrontation with a friend that goes in a direction that causes hurt that seems irreparable, the darkwood of substance abuse, or the dark wood of any number of poor choices that we could make?

As we travel down the path, we can usually see what is going to happen; there is always that still small voice – or perhaps one that screams as in a hurricane – but we often ignore the words and the decibels. In too deep to get out but not in so far that we can’t wish we could turn around, we head straight into the mouth of disaster.

I’ve been there. We all have. And sometimes those moments can be pretty dark.

The dark moments are moments when Satan can grab us. And one of his most successful tactics is to cause us to give up hope – to think it’s impossible to get through the dark wood, to feel like there is no way out.

Alexander Pope reminds us that “Hope springs eternal.” And so it does. Right now, there are those of you who are hoping that I will get done speaking early so you can get on to your graduation party, or you hope to get back to the computer, the cellphone, your Palm or Treo so you can attend to the tyranny of the urgent.

But hope can be lost when we are overwhelmed. We can give up. While Philippians tells us:

I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12)

we sometimes nevertheless give up and lose hope, the thought of pressing on through a circumstance being too great a weight to bear.

In fact, perhaps the most depressing words that were ever penned are those above the entrance to Hell as found in Dante’s Inferno:

Abandon every hope, all you who enter.

Several years ago, the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed Puccini’s masterpiece, Madama Butterfly. It is the story of a 15 year old Japanese girl from a poor family who marries an American Navy Lieutenant. The officer, Lt. Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton has no intention of remaining faithful to the girl but she takes his vows and covenant at their word. Even after he abandons her for three years – after she has given birth to a child he has never seen – she holds onto hope. Even when all of her friends tell her that he is gone, never to come back, she still hopes. Only when he returns with his new, American wife does she realize that her hope was in vain. Having renounced her religion to marry the American, having lost her family as they in turn renounced her, having lost her virginity, having lost her freedom, having lost her husband, she agrees to his request to give her child to him. In what I find to be the most crushing moment of the opera, Butterfly cries,

O triste madre, triste madre,
Abbandonar mio filio.

“O sorrowful mother,
to abandon my child.”

In the end, she kills herself. For, as her Shinto tradition perversely reminds her, “To die with honor is better than to live with dishonor.”

This is heady stuff even for opera. But Butterfly’s hope is not unlike that which grips many in this world. While everything looks hopeless and overwhelming, people hold on to hope – even hope in something that offers no hope – because they have nothing else.

But our world tells them that there really is nothing to hope for. After all, a popular line of sporting equipment marketed a slogan that said simply:

Life is short, then you die.

That’s about as hopeless as one can get. Isaiah speaks of this as well when he recalls the comments of those nihilists in his time who said:

Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die. (Isa. 22:13).

You see, our society, like Isaiah’s, is obsessed with the here and now. We live in the FAST culture, the NOW culture, the IMMEDIATE culture. Hard work and self-denial give way to the quick fix and the easy get-around.

My trombone teacher while I was a student at Wheaton College, Edward Kleinhammer, played bass trombone in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 45 years. He was one of the most disciplined, hard working people I have ever known, and a man who knows and loves the Lord. Several years ago we wrote a book together with the pretentious title “Mastering the Trombone.” In his preface, he penned a sentence that either inspires dedication or causes one to abandon hope. He wrote:

World-class trombone players do not just happen. Their talents are forged in the dual furnaces of determination and diligence.

Not very popular words. Forge, furnace, determination, diligence. White hot heat, self-denial, hard work, discipline.

Why bother, if “tomorrow we die?”

Several years ago I was in Hong Kong and saw a young man with a t-shirt, on which was emblazoned the slogan:

Whoever dies with the most toys – still dies.

What’s the use, why not just “abandon all hope” and wait for the end to come? Look around, do we not all know people like this? Television, the Internet, pornography, the skateboard, video games – we know those who are amusing themselves to death, those who like Peter Pan resist at every turn the siren call to grow up and move ahead, who deny the call to fulfill their calling.

But, we who know Christ know that there is hope, a hope that transcends the collection of “toys,” a hope that makes all we do worthwhile. We have the great promise, told to us in Jeremiah 29:11

‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’

We know this – even in our darkest moments – and while it may take all of our will and way to keep Satan from deceiving us into believing that the promise is a lie, we DO know this. And we also know that by constantly keeping THE BOOK – God’s word – before us, we can resist the “flaming arrows of the evil one” as he tries to wrest our hope from us.

We know the promise of sticking with the task, and how true are the words of Hebrews:

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Press on, endure, “stick with it,” determination, diligence.

And, so, we have the warning: the world will try to strip you of your hope. Be on your guard and don’t believe the lie.

We have a hope, the only hope that is worth hoping in: hope in Jesus Christ, hope that there is a future, hope that no matter what this fallen world throws at us, that God is with us not in the twisted untruth of the bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot” (co-pilot? co-pilot? No: God is not our co-pilot; He is our pilot) but rather, our prayer is to the truth of St. Patrick paraphrased by the great hymn write Cecil Alexander:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

And now, the task.

To the teachers of these graduates, I say: remember them. You have left a piece of yourself in each of these students. You nurtured, you lectured, you disciplined, you rejoiced, you felt sympathy, even pity, and at times exercised mercy. You shared your knowledge with them but you also learned from them. As much as you have influenced them, they have also found a way into your life. Perhaps someday they will even write to you and thank you for what you gave them. But remember this: a teacher without a student speaks only to desks and the chalkboard. These graduates have allowed you to fulfill your calling and exercise your gift of teaching. The Talmud says, “Whoever teaches a student teaches that student’s student – and so on until the end of man’s generations.” (Talmud Kedushin 30, a) You are in them. Remember them.

To friends of these graduates, I say: encourage them. They are, at this moment, poised on a precipice. The world is before them, they rejoice at this memorable accomplishment. They look ahead with fear and trembling, with hope and joy. They will know rapturous success and they will stumble. Will you, in the name of Christ, offer them your hand? Will you write them, call them, admonish them, rejoice with them, pray for them? Will you be the kind of friend that can tell them things they don’t want to hear? Will you be the kind of friend who weeps with them – tears of joy when they do well and tears of hurt when they fall? Can you offer encouragement when they need it, can you resist the temptation to act like you know everything and need to impart it to them? Will you be faithful to them, will you remember them in your prayers, and remind them that wherever they may be, there is one in another place who has their face in your eyes, their voice in your mind and their friendship in your heart. Encourage them.

To parents of these graduates, I say: love them. This is both a joyful and wrenching moment for you. Many years of parenting have brought you and your child to this moment in time. You have watched them grow from a helpless infant into a young adult. You have dried their tears, put band- aids on their skinned knees, taught them to ride a bicycle and drive a car. You have cheered their successes and agonized over their failings. They have made you proud and they have let you down. But in all of this, you have loved them. They are ready to fly – they will move away. As they are in transition, so you are in transition as well. You are beginning along the road that will lead to your new role as “parent of adult child.” Your son or daughter still needs your guiding hand but as the years go on, your role as their primary teacher will change significantly. With this milestone event you begin the process of letting them go. You knew this day would come many years ago when they were born, but like Sleeping Beauty’s parents, you hoped that all of the spinning wheels had been taken away lest a finger be pricked. But that is not the way God ordains families to be. You have trained up your child in God’s way. Today you begin the process – which will take a few more years – of releasing them. Your son or daughter will face many temptations. Every choice they make will not be a good one or the right one. But through anything and all things, give them your love. Let them know that no matter what may happen, no matter how low they may fall, no matter what condemnation the world brings upon them, no matter how great their success may be, that they have in you one who loves them. One who will, as you always have – even imperfectly – come alongside them and love them. Let them know that home is the one place on this fallen planet where love – unconditional, deep, abiding love – lives. Love them.

And, finally, to these graduates, I say: hold on to hope. Each of you entered this day full of anticipation. This milestone event is one for which you can be justifiably proud. You know the work it took to get here. But graduation from Caritas Academy is not a goal, it’s a way station. It’s the first punch on your ticket as you move on to accomplish what life has before you. You move from here to somewhere else – to college or the work force, to new relationships, and eventually to a new place to call “home.” This transition, like every step of life, will not be easy. While you may feel you are “boldly going where no man has gone before,” the truth is you’re leaving the comfort of what you know for the uncertainty of what you do not know. All of the confidence in the world will not keep boulders out of your path. You will be hurt, beaten down, discouraged. You will be tempted to give up hope. But look up! We who know Christ understand that He is the blessed hope. That the promises of God are true even when they feel empty. Our culture works hard to plant seeds of doubt in your mind. You are bombarded with advertising that seeks to convince you that you are dissatisfied with all you possess. Don’t believe the lie. You are a child of God, an heir to the throne. You have been gifted with abilities and talents which not only CAN but which WILL have an impact on the world around you. But you have to hold on to your hope. Keep the Book close to you; meditate on it day and night, write it on your forehead. Remember its promise:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

View the world about you with the proper perspective. William Blake wrote:

This life’s dim windows of the soul
Distorts the Heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie
When you see with, not through, the eye.

Malcolm Muggeridge helps us understand this when he said that seeing THROUGH the eye “is to grasp the significance of what is seen, to see it in relation to the totality of God’s creation.” Seeing all before you through the eye of God – the eye which looks past the superficial to the truly important – will help you hold on to your hope, to remain true to your calling, and to persevere through trials and trouble.

And don’t forget THIS: you did not get here alone. Teachers, friends and parents walked with you in this journey called life. They will continue to do so. As you have been blessed by them, remember to bless others. Trust God, Honor God, Thank God, Humble yourself before God. Remember the words of Romans 12:10:

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

And may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God, uphold, guide, perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (2 Corinthians 2:3-4, 1 Peter 5:10)

Amen.