For many in theological education this is the time of year approaching graduation and planning for the day’s celebrations. But what is it all about and is it created more by tradition than careful thought? The problem is that there is no one intention for graduation, it is more like a cake made up of a number of ingredients. Here are a few;

Global higher education culture.

This is why we use gowns and sometimes academic hats, receive certificates from someone special with handshakes and photos just like in the local university graduation. And it is OK. We have chosen this particular contextualisation, as Christ chose his contextualisation into the current educational system in calling himself a rabbi. But, as with any contextualisation there is the danger of allowing the context to swamp other things which are just as, or even more, important. A theological education graduation is not just a higher education graduation.

Biblical attitudes

Scripture would like us to understand the relationship, even tension, between achievement and humility; to temper congratulating students with thanking God. Graduation is a record of what has happened spiritually as well as academically over the period of the course. We record with thanks the Christian community in which we lived because graduation marks the dissolving of that community. So, it is not just an academic liminal moment, it is a spiritual liminal moment for our students; a moment of worship and thanks to God looking back and a moment of re-dedication to Christ and His cause in the world into which the students step forward.

Student celebration

You will have noticed with students that they “just want to have fun” as the song goes. And why not? Celebration is a biblical theme and young people need to be able to do it in their way, as young people, as young people in a particular culture, as young people in a contemporary societal setting. And why only in the party or barbeque afterwards? Graduation belongs to them. This speaks of an ever changing, evolving graduation, not one which is dominated by tradition and the solemn moment. It speaks of a graduation which is planned by students as well as staff, of open-ness to newness and the creation of contemporary celebration. Let them have fun!

Church expectations

The churches and mission societies are often targeted by graduation planners. Graduation becomes a showcase for the college or seminary. But what is The Church interested in? It is interested more in beginnings than endings, how these students will live and minister back in the churches or away on mission. Church elders will clap for a student who is given the prize in Greek exegesis but will be much more interested in that student’s character and spirituality and whether he or she is a gentle person who gets on well with co-workers and fellow Christians. The importance of this also needs to be an ingredient of graduation.

A theological education graduation is a glorious but also complicated event and needs thinking. Please don’t just get out last year’s order of service; blending the cake mixture needs care if you want a great cake, and enjoy eating it.

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4 Comments on “Graduation”

  1. Jim Murdoch Says:

    Thanks Graham for this very pertinent piece. Just one small edition would have helped. The recognition that not all who graduate are young people. God is calling middle-aged men and women into ministry and mission. For some a return to study has not been easy and so graduation is even more of a fulfilling moment.

  2. jiddoboulos Says:

    Graham, this is a very good foundation for a graduation address … may I plagiarise it if invited to speak one day at a graduation ? 😀

  3. KiwiAllan Says:

    Thanks Graham. The term ‘graduation’ carries a good deal of baggage which we need to both acknowledge and question. I guess that’s why some ‘finish and move on’ events are called ‘commencements’. In one smallish theological education venture I was involved in, a valedictory is held (without regalia). Plenty of scope for creative thinking (with creative tension). Cheers.

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