“Life Is a Dangerous Road: Run Towards the Danger”
Huntingdon College Commencement
May 7, 2022
The Reverend J. Cameron West
President of the College
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, or, as I like to refer to it: The Story of the Dangerous Road.
If ever a class of college graduates has been put in a position to understand the crucial life lessons Jesus teaches by telling this story, it is you — the Huntingdon Class of 2022. You, I hope and trust, have learned from our Religion faculty how to read Scripture intelligently and interpret Scripture with more understanding than when you — in the words of the College motto — entered to grow in wisdom. Our Religion faculty takes seriously their calling to help you, their students, mine the riches of Scripture. I hope you have taken advantage of the opportunity they afforded you.
Very few colleges and universities offer that opportunity to their students. Have you, indeed, over the last several years thought about the Big Questions raised in Scripture and, certainly, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Story of the Dangerous Road? Three big questions in particular: (1) When is the most important time in your life? (2) Who is the most important one in your life? (3) What is the most important thing in your life?
You have been challenged to think about, and answer, those questions not only in your Religion classes but also in Tuesday Night Worship, in Wednesday Chapel, in residence hall small group studies and athletic team devotions, in your CALL classes: (1) When is the most important time in your life? (2) Who is the most important one in your life? (3) What is the most important thing in your life? But beyond all that, you have lived over the last several years the Parable of the Good Samaritan; or again as I like to call it, the Story of the Dangerous Road; or as I also like to call it, the Wisdom of the Courageous Neighbor. You have been, you are, a character in that story Jesus tells us…in this time and in this place called Huntingdon College, your Alma Mater, the Home We Love So Well.
Think back to December, 2019, and the end of fall semester; to Christmas, 2019; to New Year’s Day, 2020; to the first day of class in spring semester, 2020. Rockin’ and rollin’ through life. Challenges every day, to be sure; more challenges for some of you than for others, to be sure. No day has ever been without its challenges. That’s why Jesus teaches us to pray for the bread we need daily.
The end of calendar year 2019, the beginning of calendar year 2020: Challenges, yes, but life was what we could call…looking back…normal. You were walking along the road. Putting one foot after another, as the saying goes. Class; work; holiday shopping; holiday trips; more class; athletic practices; teacher conferences; hanging out; parties; internship interviews; job interviews; bus trips to LaGrange, and Piedmont, and Maryville; games inside Roland Arena and inside many other arenas.
Normal life…walking along the road…putting one foot after another.
Then, BAM! Seemingly out of nowhere came the unwelcome stranger and knocked you flat on the side of the road. Covid-19. Some of you were literally knocked to the side of the road, flat on your backs hurt and sick, by Covid-19. In fact, it was probably well over half of you at some point in the last three years. And the story in the beginning, of course, was pretty dramatic, a complete departure from the ordinary, normal walk along the road that up until that point in your life passed for the normal you had come to count on.
In those first couple months of Covid, you were literally or figuratively knocked off your pins: No in-person class; no on-campus experience at all; no face-to-face athletic practices or games; no in-person teacher conferences; no face-to-face internship interviews or job interviews; no bus trips; no home games or games of any kind; no hanging out in a sorority house or fraternity house or residence hall. Everything shut down. Remote became the operative word. Life everywhere became an unimaginably dangerous road.
Left in limbo or worse? Wouldn’t blame you, or any other college student in America, if you felt that way and worried about that in mid-March, 2020. “Am I going to be passed by on the side of the road, robbed of all my dreams, everything I had hoped for”? It may seem like a long time ago, mid-March, 2020; and it might sound pretty dramatic, worried about being robbed by Covid of your hopes and dreams. But it was not that long ago, I can tell you for sure, that a lot of you worried about just that. Being robbed by Covid of your hopes and dreams.
But then on that dangerous road, along came your neighbor. Faculty, coaches, staff in-person, in the classroom and labs; in the weight room; in the training room; in the gym; in the dining hall; in the library and Slawson Commons; in the business office; in the residence halls; in the bookstore; in the CCV; in the nurse’s office; on the bus to LaGrange, and Piedmont, and Maryville; in Drum Theater and Ligon Chapel; in the band rehearsal hall; in the art gallery. At the deepest spiritual level, your faculty, your coaches, your staff are all of that but more than that. We are your neighbor. It is our vocation, our calling to be your neighbor. To love you as much as we love ourselves. Your life on that dangerous road, your future, was in our hands. We were not going to leave you forgotten, lying by the side of the road.
Perhaps, no I would say with a certainty, all of this presents you my neighbors with an opportunity for a more profound wisdom to apply in your life than if the pandemic had not ambushed you. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Story of the Dangerous Road, the Wisdom of the Courageous Neighbor: Jesus is telling you that you were picked up by your neighbor, and cared for by your neighbor, and given the chance for a fresh start by your neighbor. And the issue for you, moving forward, is this: Your presence here today is evidence that you have demonstrated the fortitude, the gumption, to make that fresh start happen; so what will you make of that fresh start now that you are back on the road?
Back on the road. The road is still a dangerous place. The road will always be a dangerous place. Are there opportunities for you to look for someone lying on the side of the road, someone whom others have passed by, and be a neighbor to her, to him? To put her, to put him back on the road? Are you willing to take that risk? That is the risk one takes, Jesus says, if one is really serious about living eternal life in the here and now.
My challenge to you today — as you commence, as you begin your next step on life’s road — is not only to accept but also to welcome the reality that life is a dangerous road; that your true security, your calling, your vocation as a graduate of Huntingdon College is to run towards the danger on that road. Run towards that woman, that man lying in the road. Pick them up, carry them wherever they need to be carried to get well, stay in touch with them until they are strong enough to get back on the road on their own steam. Save not only them, but by doing so, save yourself.
Three Big Questions and their answers: (1) When is the most important time in your life? And the answer: “Now, because it is the only time when [you] have power.” (2) Who is the most important one in your life? And the answer: “Always the one you are with, for you do not know if you will ever have dealings with anyone else.” (3) What is the most important thing in your life? And the answer: “To do good for the one…by your side, because for that purpose alone [were you] sent into this life!” *
The Parable of the Good Samaritan. The Story of the Dangerous Road. The Wisdom of the Courageous Neighbor. It’s the parable, the story, and I hope and pray, the wisdom that you will carry forward from the Home We Love So Well.
Can I get a Hawk ‘Em?
Amen. So Be It.
*With thanks to Leo Tolstoy and Jon J. Muth. And to Sarah Polley, who gave me the idea for this address.