Hope When Things Have Gone Wrong
Last weekend Becky and I attended our son Christopher’s graduation from the School of Architecture and Notre Dame University. We attended the graduate school ceremony on Saturday, and so did not hear the President’s address at the undergraduate exercises on Sunday. Our speaker was a not very inspiring Keynesian economist from the University of Chicago. The students’ words are what struck me in the speeches I heard last Saturday, however; and especially at the smaller ceremony at the School of Architecture itself.
Notre Dame conferred bachelor’s degrees on 46 young architects and master’s degrees on 20 would-be professionals. Very few of them have job offers. The undergraduates had been on campus for five years and the graduates for three. Most of them have accrued tens of thousands of dollars in student debt during that time. But during that time, they watched as the classes ahead of them graduated with nearly 100% job placement, the graduate students, especially, able to choose the firm of their choice. Notre Dame’s school is ranked in the top ten in the country and placing its graduates is a priority and a source of pride.
Of Christopher’s 19 colleagues in the graduate program, only four have jobs waiting for them. The rest continue to send resumes and hear the all-too-familiar response that “we’ll keep it on file if something opens up.” There is a sense that something has gone wrong. For three or four or five years, these young, bright men and women have been told that there is a reward waiting for their hard work, places and practices that will be eager to employ their talents. Now they’re told, “…if something opens up.”
Most of the professors and deans who spoke at commencement acknowledged the tough times. Some seemed almost guilty, as if they were personally responsible for the implosion of the job market. Others sought to cast blame and depending on their own philosophical and political inclinations, cast it left or cast it right. But the students, sobered by the bubble’s sudden bursting, seemed more honest and modest – and hopeful.
The graduate valedictorian at the Architecture School told his friends and fellow graduates that is was up to them to “keep their minds and their pencils sharp.” He quoted a visiting professor who had reminded them, “The Renaissance was started among a handful of friends of the Medici around the dinner table at Poggio a Caiano.” He urged his friends to stay in touch, to support and encourage one another. Things like that are always said at graduations, but I sensed a sincerity and poignancy not typical of most graduations.
Becky and I, of course, are very aware of Christopher’s situation and we pray daily for him. The story with variations large and small is told across America, the world, during this time of “economic downturn.” Something has gone wrong, maybe very wrong. Guilt and blame are not unexpected, but not very useful, responses. Keeping minds and pencils sharp, offering support and encouragement, are much better.
The valedictorian was on to something, though, that is far beyond the School of Architecture. When times get tough in the economy or anywhere else we need to keep our minds and pencils sharp. “Set your mind on the things above,” Paul admonished the Colossians. “Encourage one another,” he tells the Thessalonians. And remember, the world was turned upside down by a handful of friends gathered in Jerusalem at the Feast of Pentecost.
The times are not easy. It seems as if something has gone wrong. But God is a sovereign God. And he is at work.
Someday, and I pray that it is very soon, Christopher will look back on those days just after graduation, acknowledge the disappointment and the discouragement, and then tell a story of God’s faithfulness – how he was able to keep his mind set on the things above and how Christians friends and family were there to encourage and support.
And may we always be such a people…
Hope When Things Have Gone Wrong